After Us the Conflagration (II)

Prior to the expiration of the ECOWAS ultimatum against Niger, warnings against the threatened invasion of that country are multiplying in Africa. Nevertheless, Paris and Berlin support ECOWAS.

NIAMEY/PARIS/BERLIN (Own report) – Sunday evening, calls from the EU to intervene against the junta in Niger have accompanied the expiration of ECOWAS’ ultimatum for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The alliance of West African states ECOWAS had threatened to invade Niger, if the junta insists on the ousting of Bazoum. The putschists continue to do just that. They have also abrogated Niger’s military agreements with France on the deployment of French armed forces. ECOWAS has yet to respond. Paris has promised ECOWAS its firm support. Berlin has merely declared that it favored further negotiations before military action. The interests the EU states have in a pro-Western government in Niamey is primarily geostrategic. Niger is an important supplier of uranium, but its importance is noticeably diminishing. Over the weekend, not only have tens of thousands in Niamey expressed their opposition to the invasion, but Algeria’s president and Nigeria’s senate – on whose approval the country’s President Bola Tinubu depends – have also expressed their rejection, because a war threatens to devastate the entire Sahel.

Uranium from Arlit

Niger’s economic significance, particularly for France, primarily stems from three large uranium deposits near Arlit in the North of the country. However, the extraction declined from a total of 4,518 tons in 2013 to 2,020 tons in 2022. One of the three deposits is now depleted and a second is approaching depletion. The third is considered one of the largest deposits in the world, but is currently not being mined for reasons of rentability. The French company Orano (formerly Areva) has diversified its activities, is also mining in Kazakhstan and in Canada and exploring deposits in Uzbekistan. According to Euratom statistics, summed up over the past decade, Kazakhstan was France’s main supplier (27 percent), ahead of Niger (20 percent) and Uzbekistan (19 percent).[1] In 2022, the EU had imported around 26.8 percent of its uranium from Kazakhstan, 25.4 percent from Niger, 22 percent from Canada and 16.9 percent from Russia.[2] Last year, accounting for 4.7 percent of the global uranium production, Niger ranked only seventh behind Kazakhstan (43 percent), Canada (15 percent), Namibia (11 percent), Australia (8 percent), Uzbekistan, and Russia.[3]

Pipeline Projects

Niger plays an important role also in projects to transport natural gas with a new pipeline from Nigeria, across the Sahara to the North African coast and from there on to the EU. Nigeria is one of the ten countries with the world’s largest natural gas reserves. It is, however, uncertain, if the project will be implemented. The plans are old. In July 2009, following decades of debates, Nigeria, Niger and Algeria agreed for the first time to embark on the construction of the pipeline. Already at that time, the costs were estimated at around US $13 billion. The project soon failed, because insurgents in southern Nigeria threated attacks on the pipeline. Beginning particularly in 2013, jihadi militias made regions of transit in northern Nigeria, as well as in Niger, unsafe. In July 2022, the three countries signed a memorandum of understanding to launch the construction of the pipeline.[4] Meanwhile costs were being estimated at around €18 billion, an alternative route to the Moroccan coast would have cost as much as €23 billon. The financing is as uncertain as Europe’s interest. In January, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell questioned whether the EU would even want to increase gas imports by the time the pipeline would be completed. According to Borrell, Europe wants green hydrogen instead.[5]

Loss of Control

Niger’s geostrategic significance is currently particularly high. Just a few years ago, France and the EU’s dominance over the Sahel was unchallenged. Control over that region is very important for the European powers. Above all, drugs and all sorts of other things are being smuggled into the EU via Mali and Niger. Refugees transit through both countries on their way to the shores of the Mediterranean. Jihadis operating in the Sahel are potentially as much a threat to Europe, as the jihadis in Syria had once been a few years ago. Should an opposing power come into a position to control the Sahel, it would be a serious setback for the EU – resembling the complete loss of influence in Syria. Recently, the EU states were obliged to withdraw their troops from Mali and Burkina Faso, where both are strengthening their ties to Russia – each in its own way.[6] On Thursday evening, Niger’s putschists abrogated their troop-deployment agreements with France. If the EU powers, which include Germany, are really forced to withdraw, they will have completely lost the control over the central Sahel. Paris still has troops stationed in Chad, however, that military government, which is no longer considered unconditionally loyal, had expelled the German ambassador in April,[7] and refuses to provide troops for a possible invasion of Niger.

Threat of War

Already a week ago, the ECOWAS West African alliance of states (French: CEDEAO) entertained the prospect of invading Niger – if the putschists in Niamey did not reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum in office by yesterday, Sunday. From Wednesday to Friday, detailed operational plans were elaborated in Nigeria’s capital Abuja by the commanders of the general staff of the eleven remaining ECOWAS active member states.[8] Officially, France does not intend to intervene, but has promised ECOWAS “firm and resolute” support. Niger’s ousted Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou is currently in Paris for more detailed consultations.[9] On Thursday, the Washington Post published an op ed under Bazoums name, in which he called on “the U.S. government and the entire international community” to overthrow the junta in Niamey.[10] As reported in the magazine Jeune Afrique, that op ed had been explicitly written at the suggestion of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a telephone conversation with Bazoum. The journal received the text via the US embassy in Niamey.[11] In Berlin, is supposedly still supporting a diplomatic solution.[12] The German government has not pronounced an explicit rejection of a military intervention.

Rejection of War

An invasion by ECOWAS or any other foreign power is, however, being firmly rejected by several African states. In Niger, tens of thousands attended a huge rally in support of the junta and in opposition of an invasion. Mali and Burkina Faso have announced that in the event of an invasion, they would immediately withdraw from ECOWAS and militarily support Niger. Guinea, the suspended ECOWAS member, along with Niger’s neighboring Chad and Mauretania are opposed to any form of intervention. Nigeria, which would provide the largest contingent of the ECOWAS invasion troops, is confronting massive difficulties. It was reported that over the weekend, Nigeria’s Senate, the upper house of parliament, formally rejected the planned invasion. According to Nigeria’s constitution, if President Bola Tinubu wants to launch an invasion of a foreign country, he must first win the approbation of the Senate. According to a statement from senators from the northern Nigerian regions bordering on Niger, a war would only bring suffering to the civilians, and Nigeria’s economy risks sinking even deeper in the crisis. Powerful forces in the Nigerian opposition are also speaking out against an invasion,[13] as did Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, over the weekend. Tebboune explained in a televised statement that Algeria “categorically rejects all forms of military intervention” because it “would set fire to the whole of the Sahel.”[14] The consequences of an intervention can be seen today in Libya.


For more on this theme: “A Reliable Partner” and After Us the Conflagration.


[1] Assma Maad: A quell point la France est-elle dépendante de l’uranium nigérien? 03.08.2023.

[2] Sylvie Husson, Valentina Breschi: Niger, 2nd Biggest Natural Uranium Supplier To The EU. 04.08.2023.

[3] Étienne Goetz: Putsch au Niger – pourquoi le marché de l’uranium reste de marbre. 01.08.2023.

[4] Algeria, Nigeria and Niger sign MOU on pipeline. 28.07.2022.

[5] Nigeria gas fuels Morocco, Algeria pipeline power struggle. 01.03.2023.

[6] See also On the Path Toward Independence.

[7] See also The Next Setback in the Sahel.

[8] Die ECOWAS, die ursprünglich 15 Mitgliedstaaten hatte, hat inzwischen die Mitgliedschaft Malis, Burkina Fasos, Nigers und Guineas jeweils wegen Putschs suspendiert. The ECOWAS which had originally been comprised of 15 member states, now has lost the memberships of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea, all because of coups in those countries.

[9] Niger : l’ultimatum de la Cedeao touche à sa fin avant une possible intervention militaire. 06.08.2023.

[10] Mohamed Bazoum: President of Niger: My country is under attack and I’ve been taken hostage. 03.08.2023.

[11] Exclusif – Révélations sur la sequestration de Mohamed Bazoum. 04.08.2023.

[12] Niger : l’ultimatum de la Cedeao touche à sa fin avant une possible intervention militaire. 06.08.2023.

[13] Nigeria : des voix s’élèvent contre une intervention militaire au Niger. 06.08.2023.

[14] Pour Abdelmadjid Tebboune, une intervention militaire au Niger est « une menace pour l’Algérie ». 06.08.2023.