M Tahrir and Izielen Agbon

Some people on the left like to claim that the imperialists are all powerful. They say that the local ruling classes and their governments are just puppets. But the military Junta in the Niger Republic forced the French military to leave and to close the French embassy in Niamey. Six months after they coup the Junta appears to be more secure than ever, especially with the release of former president’s son in January 2024.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and its Government depended on donors (led by France and the EU) for around 40% of the revenue for its annual budget. Despite this the military Junta was still able to insist that the French soldiers should leave.  This troop withdrawal was completed in December 2023, despite the logistic challenges that included a 10-day drive, including desert tracks, to N’djamena, the capital of neighbouring Chad.

But for Niger to be completely free from the domination of French imperialism, it must exit the straight jacket of the CFA Franc and issue its own currency. However, as in other French speaking countries in West Africa, the elite in Niger benefit from the CFA Franc controlled by the French central bank. They have a relatively low level of inflation, cheap imports and the freedom to export their wealth to Europe at a fixed rate of exchange.

The Niger Junta was able to use support from the new imperialist powers of Russia and China. China is funding the oil pipeline from Niger through Benin to the coast. The Russian deputy Defence Minister visited Niger in early December and, on the same trip, visited Mali and Burkina Faso. In mid-January, 2024 the Prime Minister of Niger and the Defence Minister were in Moscow. Positive developments in military co-operation were announced.

The three military governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have also announced closer co-operation with a mutual defence pact. An attack on any one of these countries would be taken as a direct attack on the other two. Algeria also proposed to support Niger if the Junta agreed to transfer to civilian rule within six months.

The military Junta in Niger is neither radical nor progressive. Its leader was the leader of the Presidential Guard of the previous government. Like other military juntas across West Africa, the junta in Niger has used anti-French sentiments to boost its support amongst the poor people of Niger. This has included gaining the support of the main trade union federation, the Democratic Confederation of Workers of Niger (CDTN).

The day after the coup the CDTN demanded that the soldiers “withdraw unconditionally from the political scene”. However, presumably under pressure from the raising anti-French feeling fuelled by the Junta, the CDTN trade union federation issued another press release on 27th August in which they called to:   “Invite all Nigeriens in general and workers in particular to mobilize around the CNSP [the military Junta] in order to set a good example to the world”. This unilateral support for the Junta did not include any movement on the long-standing demands of the trade union movement.

As in Nigeria, most people in Niger survive in appalling poverty whilst the corrupt elite live in luxury – for example in an affluent suburb of Niamey nicknamed “Qui n’a pas vol?” (Who has not stolen?).  

Half the population of Niger exist below the national poverty line (and the minimum wage is hardly more than in Nigeria). One in five of the population cannot reliably meet their food needs. This poverty deepened as the Junta slashed government spending by 40%. The cost of essential goods including food and medicines exploded due to sanctions imposed by Nigeria and other regional countries.

In January 2023, the four main trade union centres in Niger undertook a 48 hour strike over demands they had made since 2012. These included the harmonization of allowances for all state employees, recruitment in education and health and raising of the minimum wage. The achievement of these demands would have made a major difference for the families and communities of at least tens of thousands of public sector workers and so reduced poverty across the country. For millions of people in Niger, this would have made a real difference to their lives.

The people of Niger are still suffering the impact of sanctions by ECOWAS and traffic is still stuck on the borders, for example, between Niger and Nigeria.  In contrast, in the months to come the Junta will see a huge rise in its income as the Chinese built oil pipeline through the Republic of Benin will begin operations.  This could lead to doubling of government income from these oil exports.

The ECOWAS sanctions are still in force, but the Government of the Republic of Benin used the excuse that: “no-one mentioned the case of the oil pipeline”.  So it has agreed to allow the export of Nigerien oil. It will gain significant monetary benefits from this action.

Trade unions across West Africa should support the call by their brothers and sisters in Niger and call for their governments to end the sanctions, whilst also calling for a rapid return to civilian rule in Niger and other countries across West Africa that currently also have military juntas.

In this situation, the trade unions in Niger should now be demanding an improvement in the conditions of their members and the implementation of their long-standing demands. They may be happy that the French forces have left the country, and this does dramatically show that governments like the one in Niger can stand up to the imperialist powers – if their politicians choose to do so.  But the exit of the French from Niger does not help the common people to feed their families nor pay their bills.

So Socialist Labour says:

1. The Niger working class cannot be liberated by a military coup d’état.

2. The Niger working and peasant classes have to fight for their own specific class interests which the new military leadership have not supported nor articulated.

3. The military is the institutional expression of the coercive arm of any capitalist state. When its leadership takes over control of the state, it does so , first and foremost, to consolidate the elite’s  power against the power of the working and peasant classes, on one hand, and imperialist foreign capital, on the other. In the struggle for independence in West African, the local elites used the power of the African working and peasant classes as a battering ram against colonial powers. Nothing much has changed. The Niger military junta represents the interests of the Niger national elite. This does not mean that the military junta is fundamentally anti-imperialist. It means the military junta seeks to renegotiate its relationships with foreign governments such that the national elite have more space and power to autonomously pursue its class interests. In short, it wants a larger share of the surplus value appropriated from the Niger working and peasant classes than French capital is currently offering. Fundamentally, the national bourgeois class requires the support of foreign capital and governments to maintain its class dominance through monopoly control of the instruments of state violence and state revenue/finance. This is not the first time, a national bourgeoisie has used the Russia/China support option or anti-imperialist position of the working/peasant classes to recompose itself and try to get a better deal in its relationships with foreign governments and companies.

4. If the Niger military junta supported working class and peasant class interests, the first significant action it would have taken would have been to commit institutional suicide by arming the Niger workers and peasants and forming a peoples’ army. A mass grassroots based participatory people’s assembly where representatives of workers and peasants can conduct the development oriented affairs of the State would have been established. Rather, we have the old state still in place and classic military rule on behalf of the corrupt elite. This applies to all the countries with recent coups in West Africa including Mali and Burkina Faso.

5. All the anti-French propaganda and actions are not done to pursue working/peasant class interests. Banning French as the official language in Burkina Faso does nothing but retard urgently needed development efforts. it is one thing to introduce another official language especially indigenous languages, but it is quite another to ban the language of the former colonial power as a lingua franca. That does not make sense. The junta might have run out of ideas to maintain the high anti-French propaganda that it used to rise to power.

6. The Niger trade unions might have changed their minds and offered support to the Junta in the face of the rising anti-French sentiments expressed by grassroot workers and peasants. This may have been particularly so with the fear of an invasion by French or ECOWAS forces. However, with time, the class nature of the military junta will  express itself in the arrests of trade union leaders, militants, working class activists, radicals and progressives. It is better that the trade unions in Niger start to fight for workers interests and reject the presentation of the interests of the Niger corrupt elite as the collective interests of the Niger people against the French or any other governments.

7. We support efforts to link the Niger trade unions with the NLC/TUC in Nigeria and other national trade unions in other ECOWAS countries, starting with Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and other francophone west African nations.


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