"Down with Imperialism" Protest in Niamey, Niger in August 2023. (Photo: Issifou Djibo/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTOCK
The people of Niger have mobilized in mass to defend their country from U.S. and French imperialist interference.
France got the message. How could it be missed? Tens of thousands of protesters in Niger united in their call for France to get out of their country and stay out. To ensure there was no confusion, during one demonstration, protesters slit the throat of a goat dressed in French colors and carried coffins wrapped in French flags.
One protester said, "We are ready to sacrifice ourselves today, because we are proud. They plundered our resources and we became aware. So they're going to get out."
France is getting out. French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced:
"France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France." The French President added that his country’s military presence in Niger is ending and that troops will be withdrawn in "the months to come."
These dramatic developments were triggered by a seizure of power by Niger’s military on July 26th. After power was taken from Mohamed Bazoum, a puppet of France, demonstrations were staged almost daily in the capital city of Niamey. The people not only made it abundantly clear that they welcomed Bazoum’s departure, but they also dared France to make good on its threat to use force to return him to power.
The U.S. dutifully chimed in as France slung its bullying rhetoric. The audacity of both countries was grounded in their presumption that their own troops would not confront the dangers of an invasion because of plans to deploy the troops of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a toady proxy invading force. However, it’s easy to imagine that after observing the determination of Niger’s people, ECOWAS might have turned to France and the U.S. and asked: “What do you mean ‘we’ white man?”
Undoubtedly, a major factor in the deterrence of an invasion was a demonstration of Pan-African spirit by neighboring countries. A Punch article reported: “Mali has said it ‘will not stand idly by’ if foreign governments intervene in neighboring Niger…[T]he military leaders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso — all of whom came to power in coups since 2020 — signed a defense pact that provides for mutual assistance in the face of attack.”
These developments in the Sahel region are not a revolution, but they are highly instructive for revolutionaries. Not to be missed is the respect given to a pledge by only three countries to stand united against imperialist aggression. This leaves to the imagination the exciting prospect of all countries on the African continent standing firm and united against foreign intervention and exploitation. Of even greater significance however is the power that flowed from the unity, determination and high level of consciousness of the masses of Niger’s people.
The phenomenon of the relatively unarmed masses facing down well-armed forces of oppression is not unique in human history. Writer Eduardo Diokno explained, “[In 1986], the world watched the news on television to witness a bloodless revolution taking place in the Philippines. Filipinos in America watched in awe as Filipino nuns knelt before tanks as millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila and a dictator [Ferdinand Marcos] fled the Philippines.”
Likewise, in 1979, the New Jewel Movement led the people of Grenada in a seizure of power from dictator Eric Gairy that was almost bloodless. That same year, Iran’s people demonstrated their power with daily mass demonstrations that drove out the Shah.
Not every revolution can avoid armed conflict, but revolutionaries can certainly draw inspiration from the demonstrated ability of the masses to face down oppressive forces. It is inspiration that will be needed because of the possibility that in the case of Niger, France’s proclamation of “adieu” may not mean “we’re gone.” France’s infrastructure is so highly dependent on the uranium mined in Niger – not to mention the extensive mining facilities that France maintains in that country – that it is difficult to imagine that it will not devise a strategy to regain control.
Nevertheless, as France retreats, there is a significant opportunity to change the western imperialist paradigm that has plagued Africa for many decades. As revolutionaries attempt to seize this moment, they will do well to not only reflect on how much power people have when all that binds them is suffering and a commitment to expulsion of an oppressor, but they should reflect as well on how that power can be exponentially enhanced by transforming spontaneous emotional action into organization and strategic planning.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney and writer. He can be contacted at mfancher[at]comcast.net.