The following statement was released by Nigerian group, Socialist Labour, on August 1, in response to the coup in the neighbouring country of Niger and the threat of foreign military intervention, including by Nigeria.
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As in Nigeria, the mass of the population in Niger suffer horrendous poverty. The military coup will not help these people. It is also likely to see more repression against the much-needed mass movement against poverty and the other anti-people policies. However, an invasion by Nigeria would only make matters so much worse.
Many people will celebrate the coup in Niger against one of the most pro-western governments in West Africa. The removal of French soldiers and their possible replacement with mercenaries from the Russian Wagner group will be interpreted as a victory. But this will not help most Nigeriens. They need a mass movement against poverty and inequality. This is the only way to fundamentally address the problems of inequality, corruption and insecurity.
Half the population of Niger exist below the national poverty line. One and five of the population cannot reliably meet their food needs. Fighting between the corrupt political elite and the military will not fundamentally change the situation.
Niger is Africa’s most important uranium ore exporter (75% of the country’s total exports) and the fourth largest exporter in the world. Other exports include: gold, onions, beans and meat. Niger’s main export partners are France (55% of total exports), the United States, Switzerland, Nigeria and Ghana. Around a third of the uranium for the extensive French nuclear reactors comes from Niger.
So again, like Nigeria, Niger is largely dependent on the exports of a single natural resource. Most of the uranium mines are controlled by Orano (previously named Areva), the French state-owned nuclear power company. The people of Niger suffer environmental devastation comparable to the Niger Delta. “The air, water and land are polluted around the mining towns,” reports a journalist based in the Nigerien capital of Niamey. “And the animals of the pastoralists are constantly falling sick due to their grazing pastures being contaminated with radioactive dust,” he adds.
Studies prove that the concentration of radiation around the uranium mines is almost 500 times higher than normal background levels. Even spending one hour per day over one year at this location can expose a person to 10 times the annual radiation dose.
The Union of Workers’ Trade Unions of Niger (USTN) is the largest of the three main trade union centres with a membership of 60,000. On 25 June 2009, the second largest trade union confederation led a 24-hour general strike across the nation to protest the President’s [constitutional] referendum plans, after a previous strike had been indefinitely postponed on 18 June. All seven trade union confederations took part, in the first general strike since the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1999, and the first joint action by all seven major confederations.
Niger, like all countries, is situated within a global economy and suffers interference from the major imperialist powers, in this case, mainly France. The French government controls the major export from Niger (uranium) and also the currency. This and the French army base in Niger means that there is significant anti-French feeling in Niger. Four days after the coup there was a demonstration involving thousands of people against the French embassy.
The working people of Niger do not need a military coup to further constrain their ability to organise. They do not need the current military “support” provided by Western governments. Equally they do not need interference from the Russian Wagner group or a possible ECOWAS invasion led by Nigeria. As in Nigeria, we need a mass campaign to increase wages of the working people and increase government spending on health and education.
[Reprinted from Socialist Labour.]