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Niger, an Indictment Against French Neocolonialism 

Niger, an Indictment Against French Neocolonialism 

The recent coup d’etat in Niger that toppled the democratically elected government of president Mohamed Bazoum has highlighted a disturbing trend emerging in several West African countries: the resurgence of unconstitutional means to bring about regime change. In the last three years, there have been military takeovers in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Guinea. 

The coup by the presidential elite force in Niger has been condemned by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Western nations, notably France, which has considerable interests there. Sanctions are being imposed by Western and African countries, including Nigeria, to force the coup leaders to hand power back to the president. 

Interestingly, neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, who have experienced coups themselves in recent years, are fully backing the coup leader Abdourahmane Tchiani as are the people of Niger, who were seen applauding the coup leaders and even held a protest in support of them. This is similar to what happened in Burkina Faso, when coup leaders promising radical change were welcomed and civilians were seen kissing the hands of soldiers loyal to coup leader Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henry Damiba, who they believed would be much more effective than the ousted president in dealing with violent Islamic insurgents in the country. In Guinea, the military takeover was viewed positively by citizens who were frustrated by President Alpha Conde’s scrapping of the presidential two-term limit, which allowed him to run for a third term in 2020.   

Meanwhile, foreign private military and security companies, including the controversial Russia-backed Wagner Group, are taking advantage of instability and insecurity in countries such as Niger and Mali. In 2019, the United Nations warned of a “surge in mercenaries” in Western Africa who are not only fighting wars but also illegally exploiting natural resources in countries experiencing organised crime and violent extremism. 

While the coup in Niger is viewed by most as a threat to democracy, could it be that it is a rebellion against French neocolonialism? Niger is part of 14 West African countries that form what is known as the Franc Zone. These countries might have achieved flag-independence but are still economically enslaved, thanks to a colonial pact which not only determines how these countries spend their own money, but also ensures that France remains the main beneficiary of these countries’ natural resources. 

Former French colonies in West Africa are even today joined at the hip to their former coloniser through the pact that forces these countries to deposit as much as 50 percent of their foreign reserves into the French treasury. This money is held “in trust” by the French government to guarantee what is known as the CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) franc currency used in these countries. In essence, Paris determines economic policies for these countries – with France remaining the main beneficiary of these policies. 

The pact ensures that the French government or French companies receive priority when it comes to buying or investing in the natural resources of these countries (Niger is one the largest suppliers of uranium in the world). French companies doing business in the CFA zone also benefit from emergency credit and tax cuts.  In addition, France has the exclusive right to supply these countries with military equipment and to militarily intervene in them—which explains why French troops are always the first on the ground when a Francophone African country erupts into conflict or political turmoil. 

France’s leading foreign policy principle in Africa has always been that its former colonies should continue to serve France’s interests even after they attained independence; this thinking that dictates how France deals with African countries to this day. It is an arrangement that has seen French leaders maintain close ties with leaders from mostly Francophone Africa; in fact, it is quite common to see a newly elected French president making a mandatory trip to one of France’s former African colonies within a few days of assuming office. French military bases in countries such Djibouti and Gabon also allow France to have a visible presence on the ground. 

Furthermore, the aid that France provides to African countries is spent not so much on development programs, but on subsidising friendly governments and their armies. Such aid is given with the hope that recipient countries spend most of it on contracts with French companies. 

The former Malian prime minister, Moussa Mara, at a talk given at King’s College, pointed out that the CFA franc is deeply unpopular in countries where it is used and that the current arrangement undermines Franc Zone countries’ sovereignty, especially regarding fiscal policy. While the arrangement is good for a handful of foreign investors wary of inflation and currency risks, it has made life terribly expensive for ordinary citizens. 

It is therefore not surprising that any African leader who has threatened to defy the pact with France finds themselves either ousted in a coup or assassinated. France, in particular, decides which coups are acceptable and which aren’t.  For example, when Togo’s first president, Sylvanus Olympio, decided to use Togo’s own currency and discontinue the CFA franc, he was assassinated by an army sergeant supposedly on the orders of the French government. When Mali’s first president, Modiba Keita, attempted to do the same, he was overthrown in a coup. Yet, few African leaders or governments have spoken out against these actions, perhaps because they know not acquiescing to French whims and demands could jeopardise their own political careers. Although France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said that he is willing to revisit the use of the CFA franc, which could be replaced by another currency, such reforms have yet to be implemented.

A second liberation movement in former French colonies in West Africa might be in order. As long as CFA countries are tied to France economically, there will always be unrest and the threat of more coups – and more Russian influence – in these countries. 


  • Rasna Warah

    Rasna Warah is a Kenyan writer and journalist with over two decades of experience as an editor, writer and communications specialist. She wrote a weekly op-ed column for the Daily Nation, Kenya’s leading newspaper, for many years, and has contributed to various regional and international publications, including, the UK’s Guardian, Africa is a Country, The East African, The Mail and Guardian, The Elephant, and Kwani? She has worked as an editor and writer at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and has published two books on Somalia: Mogadishu Then and Now (2012) and War Crimes (2016). Her first book, Triple Heritage (1998), explored the history of South Asians in East Africa. Her latest book, Lords of Impunity (2022), examines the failures and internal contradictions of the United Nations and what can be done to transform this global body. She holds a Master’s degree in Communication for Development from Malmö University in Sweden and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Suffolk University in Boston, USA. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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