In Niger, the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) has terminated its military agreements with France. French channels have been prohibited in the country. People are organizing demonstrations against the US and France. Concurrently, preparations for military intervention are being made by countries in the south of Niger.
As these events unfold, Africa-Russia relations are rapidly developing. The people of Niger hold much sympathy towards Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian administration.
We asked Uwidata writer and historian Dr. Mehmet Perinçek about the latest developments in Niger.
Observations from the Russia–Africa Summit
Recently, there have been important developments in Russia-Africa relations. What are your observations?
The Russia–Africa Summit in St. Petersburg on 27–28 July witnessed a remarkable level of participation. Out of 54 African countries, 49 were in attendance, with many countries represented by their heads of state and prime ministers. This summit highlighted that the developing Russia-Africa relationship reached a point to make a splash.
Of noteworthy significance is Putin’s special attention to the Summit. I have attended summits where Putin was present previously. In such meetings, he was typically content with giving a speech during the main session and engaging in talks with visiting heads of state. However, during the Russia-Africa Summit, he participated in meetings that extended from morning until evening and made multiple appearances before the press. This is an indicator that Russia will be dedicating special importance to African affairs in the coming period.
African leaders refer to the Soviet era
Another notable aspect of the Russia-Africa Summit was the frequent references by African leaders to the Soviet era in their speeches. They made quotations from leaders like Lenin and Che Guevara and emphasized the contributions of socialism to Africa. The investments made by the Soviets in Africa were also mentioned. Furthermore, the speeches highlighted imperialist economic exploitation. These indications suggest that in the upcoming period, the ideas of state-led economy and socialism will strengthen within the struggle for independence in Africa.
Türkiye, Russia and China in Africa
Currently there is an anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist movement against France. What are the drivers of this?
Over the past decade, Türkiye, Russia and China’s influence in Africa has steadily increased. Türkiye’s position has gained significance in both economic and political spheres, Russia mostly militarily and China economically. Türkiye has established numerous embassies and Turkish companies’ activities have expanded. China has begun breaking the grip of Western imperialism through economic investments. Russia is also bolstering its presence in Africa through military agreements. Moreover, Russia has decided to reopen several embassies that were closed after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Terrorism in the Sahel region
When discussing the Sahel region, one of the indispensable topics is the issue of terrorism. Particularly Libya, after Muammar Gaddafi, transformed into a state exporting terrorism to the Sahel region. With the internal conflict in Libya, instability and terrorist attacks in the region surged. Certain parts of some countries are totally under the control of terrorist organizations. This has provided a pretext for interventions by French and US imperialist forces in the region.
At the core of the region’s countries’ agendas lies expelling the military forces of Western imperialist states. The fundamental cause of instability in the region rests upon these terrorist organizations and many evidences demonstrate the support these groups receive from Western states.
Wagner’s role in Africa
The presence of military force capable of balancing the strength of terrorist organizations and their backers is the most important prerequisite in ensuring the territorial integrity of Sahel countries and fostering peace in the region. In this regard, the military dimension of Russia-Africa relations will continue its predominance. Russia’s only armed force capable of this role is Wagner. Wagner has a profound expertise in this region actively engaging in counterterrorism efforts for many years. They have a good experience on Africa that few countries’ military forces have. Wagners understands how to collaborate with the local governments and are familiar with the populace.
It’s important to note that Wagner executes a rotation in Africa. Their military presence is not confined solely to the active forces in Africa. For instance, a unit of a thousand personnel in Africa alternates within a larger group of ten thousand personnel periodically over specific time intervals. Wagner’s total African force is several times its present force in Africa at any given moment.
Furthermore, following the events of June 24th, Wagner needs to do something to regain trust. We may think Wagner would try that in Africa. Prigozhin might consider redirecting Wagner forces to Africa on a larger scale. From Russia’s perspective, Wagner’s deployment in Africa is beneficial as there’s hardly any alternative structure, even including the Russian military, that could replace it. The Russian military lacks experience in the region to operate, and the deployment of Russian military to the Sahel could potentially raise various issues in terms of international relations and international law.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) issued a statement at the end of July, granting the leadership in Niger a one-week ultimatum. They threatened military intervention if the ousted President Muhammed Bazum was not reinstated. Burkina Faso and Mali’s administrations had already emphasized that any military intervention in Niger would be considered a cause for war. What do you say to these?
If Niger invites Wagner into their country and ECOWAS responds it with an attack, this puts Russia in the crosshairs. This would lead ECOWAS not only to a regional conflict, but rather pit them against Russia, a global military and economic power. Here, Niger could preempt regional interventions by swiftly establishing relations with Russia. Maybe Wagner’s military power does not rival that of other states, but the fact that Wagner is of Russian origin would serve as a deterring factor.