05.04.2024 Author: Viktor Goncharov

Niger – USA: Another slap in the face for the arrogant hegemon. Part one: The American embarrassment in Niger

The American embarrassment in Niger

On 16 March this year, Niger’s military government announced the cancellation of its military cooperation agreement with the United States regarding the status of US Department of Defense personnel and civilians on Nigerian territory.

In a statement on national television, Amadou Abdramane, a spokesman for Niger’s military leadership, said the agreement was imposed on Niger in 2012 in violation of the “constitutional and democratic prerogatives” of a sovereign state and “no longer meets the interests and aspirations of the people of Niger”.

The statement came a day after the departure from the country of an American delegation, including the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Molly Phee, the head of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), General Michael Langley, and a group of other officials, who, in violation of all rules of diplomatic protocol, travelled to Niamey without having coordinated their visit with the Nigerian Foreign Ministry on the timing, composition of the delegation and the intended agenda.

The Americans’ visit, scheduled for 12-13 March, was extended by one day in the hope of meeting the Head of State, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, in person. But this did not happen because of his refusal, the arrogant behaviour of the delegation members in meetings with his subordinates, and the rude interference in the affairs of a sovereign state.

According to US State Department officials, the purpose of the visit was to “continue discussions with the leaders of the country’s ruling National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, which began last August, on the return of Niger to the path of democratic development and the prospects for partnership in the areas of security and economic development”.

It should be recalled here that Washington began urging the new military leadership of Niger to take steps to transfer power to a civilian government immediately after the coup of 26 July 2023. US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s persistent advice to Niger last August to put the country back on the path of constitutional development and not to follow in Mali’s footsteps in exchange for economic aid did not have any effect on the local military. She was also denied meetings with the country’s new leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, and with ousted former President Mohamed Bazoum, who is under house arrest.

Pursuing a carrot-and-stick policy, three months after the coup, Washington announced that it was freezing $200 million in funding to Niger to fight terrorism and train the local armed forces, as well as a number of economic programmes worth $442 million. The US linked the resumption of these programmes to “the restoration of democratic rule in the country in a short and credible timeframe”.

The country has also been removed from the list of countries eligible for duty-free exports to the US because of its “lack of progress in promoting political pluralism and the rule of law in public life”.

When another woman from Washington arrived in Niamey on 12 March this year, the Nigerian military already had some idea of who they would be dealing with. Shortly before her visit to Niger, in an interview with the Washington Post in February this year, Molly Phee had stressed that US aid to Niger would be suspended until the military leaders set a timetable for restoring civilian rule in the country.

Niamey could not ignore statements by individual US generals regarding Africa’s place in the US fight against international terrorism. For example, General James Jones, head of the US military’s European Command, stressed at the time that “Africa’s enormous potential makes the task of ensuring its stability an imperative of paramount importance”.

And General Michael Langley, a member of the US delegation to the Niger negotiations, warned earlier this year that “if the US were to close its drone base, it would have serious negative consequences not only for Niger and the region, but also for the implementation of the US counter-terrorism strategy in Africa as a whole”.

It seems, therefore, that even before the US delegation’s visit, Niger’s military leaders may have felt that, to use General Jones’s language, the current “imperative of paramount importance” for Washington was to maintain a US military presence with its UAV airbases on their territory, which they expected to play on.

The US military presence in Niger began in 2013, when the US set up Base 101 at the international airport in the capital, Niamey, for UAVs to gather intelligence on jihadist movements and concentrations.

Another air base, known as Base 201, was then built between 2016 and 2019 in the central part of the country near the city of Agadez. Covering an area of 25 square kilometres, it is the second largest US military facility in Africa after Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Located on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, it serves as an outpost of a network of US bases in North and West Africa to monitor the activities of terrorist organisations. Washington has invested some $250 million in its construction, infrastructure development and maintenance. Its annual maintenance costs the US treasury $30 million.

Remotely piloted MQ-9 Reaper drones and Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic transport aircraft are based only at the Agadez base, a thousand kilometres from Niamey.

In addition to these two bases, the New York Times reports that in 2018 the Americans set up another secret base on the Libyan border near the town of Dirkou, this time for the CIA to attack Islamist militants who have settled in southern Libya.

The number of American personnel in Niger, including military personnel, Pentagon civilians and their contractors, is around one thousand. And all of them are currently in a “suspended state”, as is the fate of the American military bases, because, unexpectedly for many observers, the negotiations in Niamey ended in a complete failure for the United States.

And this happened, according to the majority of representatives of the expert community, due to the fault of the American delegation, primarily Molly Phee, who, following Joe Biden’s installation, that Washington would “in every possible way counteract violations of democracy in Africa by creating conditions for the organizers of coups that would be unacceptable to them,” during negotiations in a condescending manner, she questioned the expediency of developing ties with the Russian Federation and, as stated by The Wall Street Journal, accused the Niger authorities of preparing an agreement on the supply of uranium to Iran.

The unconstructive attitude of the US delegation has been directly pointed out by American political analysts. Commenting on the outcome of the talks, Cameron Hudson, Director of the Africa Division of the US National Security Council under the Bush Jr. administration, said in an interview with Fox News Digital that “the US image in the region has been dealt a sensitive blow…and it sends a clear message to us that African countries today have a choice…and they no longer need to listen to US lectures”.

And further. According to Hudson, the US administration publicly says that African countries are free to choose their partners, but then privately demands that they reconsider their choices. “It is this hypocrisy that has put us in a very uncomfortable position in Niger,” he stresses.

The American publication Responsible Statecraft also sees one of the reasons for the failure of this delegation’s visit in the excessive arrogance of the American leadership, which thought that the level of the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Molly Phee, with the authority to lecture him on the choice of partners without prior approval from Washington, was sufficient to negotiate with the head of an African state, as she demonstrated during the talks with the Prime Minister of Niger, Ali Lamine Zeine, the Minister of Defence, General Salifou Modi, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Niger, Mohamed Toumba.

The Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, in an article entitled “The US is losing its influence in Africa due to political arrogance”, notes that the recent events in Niger are based on the dissatisfaction of African countries with the neo-colonial policies of the Western powers, which oppose their attempts to get rid of the West’s unilateral dependence and diversify their relations with the new world players that have arrived on the continent.


Viktor GONCHAROV, african expert, candidate of sciences in economics, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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