The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is alarmed at – and denounces – plans by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), backed by France, to invade Niger in a bid to restore the bourgeois-democratic government of Mohamed Bazoum.
Equally, SAFTU does not support coups between warring factions of the ruling class, as they ride on real discontent whilst making mockery of the demands of workers. The working people of Niger must gain space to re-organise so as to demand new democratic elections, in which they should contest power.
Bazoum, ECOWAS and the Powder Keg
The ousted President refuses to resign despite being detained by the military leaders. Bazoum, who in his youth was a trade unionist, was victim of a military coup in late July 2023, in part because of dissatisfaction in the broader society about Niger’s inability to escape dependency. Decades of misrule by local and global elites have left per-person Gross Domestic Product below the level of 1980. Adult literacy is 35%. Poverty and frustration have been soaring.
And yet in spite of such realities on the ground, the most recent International Monetary Fund report on Niger praised Bazoum for a neoliberal economy policy whose “performance has been broadly on track. Overall macroeconomic performance is satisfactory, and the implementation of the structural reform agenda is gaining momentum, including on governance-related issues.” The IMF told Bazoum he “should adhere to the envisaged fiscal consolidation path,” i.e. “broadening the tax base” by squeezing poor and working people on the one hand through higher Value Added Tax collection, and cutting budgets for what were the country’s already-ravaged social programmes.
The powder keg of West Africa is repeatedly lit up by such delusional imperialist financial dictates in the context of French neo-colonialism, so we were not surprised that society’s growing dissent was channeled into an army coup. SAFTU and Africa’s social movements and trade unions have, of course, preferred popular uprisings (including against corrupt militaries) of the sort that gained prominence in 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt (no matter that counter-revolutions subsequently occurred in both).
The greatest danger now is the bourgeoisie’s backlash. In spite of the failure of Bazoum’s rule, ECOWAS member governments led by Nigeria, backed by the French government, are now planning a military invasion purportedly to restore Bazoum to power, on grounds that he was an elected President and a product of a majority vote in a bourgeois democracy.
SAFTU joins many voices of trade unions and worker activists across the continent in opposing military intervention. The trade union movement and workers from ECOWAS countries and across the African continent, should protest their governments’ planned invasion of Niger.
The Coup in Niger
Upon the seizure and detention of Bazoum, the military leaders declared their coup d’état as the means to “put an end to the regime” that has led to the “deteriorating security situation” and “poor economic and social governance” which would result in the “gradual and inevitable demise” of Niger.
Niger is battling Islamic insurgents that have proliferated since the emergence of Boko Haram and the Islamic State ISIS, especially since the 2011 demise of Colonel Muamar Ghaddafi in an imperialist-instigated coup (one that hijacked the genuine discontent and protests of the Libyan masses, who had turned to armed revolt as a result of Gaddafi’s resort to quelling a peaceful protest by brute force).
Islamic-extremist terrorist attacks are an everyday reality, and ordinary workers and peasants in the far-flung rural areas are under constant threat. They stand to benefit from strengthened security. Nevertheless, we caution against coup leaders using ‘security concerns’ that in the main reflect palace politics of elite groups, especially clashing military interests.
Not long after the coup, at the earliest point at which there were imminent threats of invasion by ECOWAS, tens of thousands of ordinary masses gathered in the capital of Niger, Naimey, to support the army. That a coup that toppled a democratically elected president can have this sizeable support among the ordinary masses, is indicative that there were/are underlying issues beyond the ‘security concerns.’ These issues are socio-economic.
Niger is declared a country with among the poorest populations in the world, by even the dubious standards adopted by the World Bank. More than 40% of Niger’s population live in abject poverty, with 20% unable to afford a basket of nutritious food daily, and with the climate crisis affecting the semi-subsistence farming in Niger’s drought-ridden rural areas.
Conditions of poverty follow from imperial capitalism, and are the source of popular support for the coup, as much as they are also a cause of the Islamic insurgencies that have plagued the Sahel region.
Imperialism, as the highest stage of capitalism, simply means that world markets have spread to the point everything under the sun is commodified. Extraction of profits is the sole purpose of capitalism, but to make even more profits, financial surpluses must be ploughed back into the production of more commodities. In practice, multinational corporations invest their money in what is termed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Typical of neo-colonial tendencies, they invest these in extractive sectors, and consequentially exploit both natural resources and labourers very cheaply.
Orano Group, a French mining conglomerate backed by the Paris government, has owned uranium mines in Niger for more than 50 years. Orano subsidiaries in Niger known as SOMAÏR, COMINAK and IMOURAREN provide uranium that powers France’s nuclear industry, and in turn, the generation of two thirds of French electricity.
The economic interests of French multinational corporations are behind President Emmanuel Macron’s insistence on returning Bazoum to power. They are determined even at the risk of plunging the country and region into a full-scale war – just as Macron instructed Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa and Paul Kagame to put thousands of South African and Rwandan troops into combat with a different Islamic insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province in May 2021, given that Total Energies’ $20 billion Liquefied Natural Gas plant was at risk after March 2021 attacks on the Total-expat town of Palma.
Our strong suspicion is that apart from being haunted by the fever of coups in the region, the bourgeois-democratic forces within ECOWAS are influenced by France to militarily invade Niger so that it can protect Paris’ economic interests. After all, France has offered to join the invasion and is currently provoking the current leadership of Niger by refusing to withdraw their ambassador despite being given an ultimatum.
Coups as expressions of class struggles
Coups are a shorthand for a revolution. Like revolutions, coups are a consequence and are themselves an expression, of class struggle. Seldom are coups genuine settlements of such struggles, because it is too rare under such circumstances that workers and peasants confront their oppressor and exploiters. Instead, coups are often a method of resolving the intra-class struggle between factions of the ruling class. Recall in our own region, Zimbabwe’s 2017 coup by the army against Robert Mugabe, in favour of Emmerson Mnangagwa. There, and in so many other cases, the coup is a tool in the toolbox of the bourgeois class to suppress workers and prevent the rise of a genuine left-leaning and popular government.
Niger’s coup is clearly an expression of an intra-class struggle between the political elites. It is not yet clear which economic elite backs the leaders of the coup. However, what is now clear is that they did not only remove a political elite in the form of Bazoum’s clique, but they are now also threatening to displace the imperialist handlers of that political elite. The war that is being threatened by ECOWAS and France on Niger, is a counterattack in the unfolding intra-class struggle i.e., to restore their political elite in order to safeguard their economic interests.
The absence of a strong workers and peasants party, based on a socialist programme, means the class struggle is fought between factions of capital, with neither of the victors bringing radical transformation to the economy and the political governance. That tens of thousands support the coup on the basis of the socio-economic hardships, shows that the masses have demands but have surrendered them to the bourgeois factions – just as happened in November 2017 when hundreds of thousands supported the anti-Mugabe military in the streets of Harare. The masses’ demands for a better economy and improved living conditions are then likely to remain unfulfilled, and the disorganization of society allows demands of workers and peasants to be exploited by factions of the ruling elite to their own ends.
Though we do not support coups between warring factions of the ruling class, as they ride on real discontent whilst making mockery of the demands of workers, nor do we the planned military intervention by ECOWAS and France. The working people of Niger must gain space to re-organise so as to demand new democratic elections, in which they should contest power. Beyond that, a wide range of mass uprisings since the 1980s’ era of “IMF Riots” have taught us that autocratic regimes can only be genuinely unseated through the power of mobilisation, organisation, struggle, and solidarity.