The World Today for December 26, 2023

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Editor’s Note:

Dear Readers,

This holiday week we’re reprising some of our lead stories of the past year, ones that illustrate ongoing trends in their respective regions. DailyChatter reports on more than 150 countries every year in every region of the world, and we feel many of those stories deserve another look.

Today we take you to West Africa, where coups over the past few years have become so common – Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso, and Guinea have experienced coups since 2020, for example – that the region has become known as the “coup belt.”

On behalf of the DailyChatter team, we wish you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season.


Palace Intrigue


Two years ago, the president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, was elected in the West African country’s first peaceful, democratic change of government since independence from France in 1960.

He almost didn’t make it – a coup was attempted to thwart him from taking office, but was reportedly stopped by Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, the commander of the Presidential Guard, according to Al Jazeera.

A few days after that same guard ousted Bazoum in a coup in July, army commanders suspended Niger’s constitution, all political parties, closed all borders, and declared Tchiani – who led the coup – the new head of the transitional council, and de facto head of the country, reported the Associated Press.

“(We decided to) put an end to the regime that you know due to the deteriorating security situation and bad governance,” he said on television, adding it was “necessary” to avoid “the gradual and inevitable demise” of the country.

There has been no talk of returning to civilian rule. Instead, the Economic Community of West African States has slapped sanctions on Niger for illegally detaining Bazoum, according to France24.

The turn of events has caused concern and dismay across Africa, and elsewhere.

The stakes are high because landlocked Niger sits amid some of the most unstable parts of the planet: war-torn Libya is one, for example, while regions of Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, northern Nigeria, and the vast and dangerous Sahara Desert of southern Algeria host jihadists who have gained in strength over the past few years.

Thousands have been killed and six million displaced in the entire region due to jihadist insurgencies.

Niger, one of the least-developed and poorest countries in the world, hosts some of those refugees displaced by the insurgents. At the same time, the country is Africa’s second-biggest uranium producer.

Meanwhile, Niger had been especially important to the US and the West, wrote National Public Radio, because the country had until the coup hosted US drone bases, around 1,100 American troops, 1,500 French soldiers, and other foreign personnel. It had been vital to America and Europe’s counterterrorism campaign against the Islamic State and other militant forces in the Sahel.

After the coup, American and French officials have also signaled their support for Bazoum and the democratic process that elected him to office in 2021, Politico reported.

But American and French generals had also been working closely with the Nigerien military for years, a cooperation that held back – until the coup –rising anti-French sentiment in the region, that was often assisted by the Russian military contractor and mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group. For example, France moved its soldiers to Niger from Mali after a military coup last year that was assisted by Wagner.

Now French soldiers are slated to leave the country by late December, noted Radio France Internationale, in one of many examples of French influence waning in the region.

And, as the Intercept explained, the US military trained one of the officers who organized the coup. An unnamed American official told the Intercept that their training adhered to US and international law, but they had no control over foreign military personnel.

In the meantime, the then leader of the Wagner Group, an arm of Kremlin influence in Africa, took credit for the coup. In a statement posted on the social media site Telegram, Yevgeny Prigozhin (now deceased) suggested that Wagner had supported the military junta and would now help Niger deal with terrorists rather than the US and France.

“What happened is the struggle of the people of Niger against the colonialists,” Prigozhin said. “This is actually gaining independence and getting rid of the colonialists.”

Days after the coup, thousands of people marched through the streets of the capital Niamey, denouncing France, waving Russian flags, with some even setting a door at the French Embassy ablaze, Africanews wrote.

Some have suggested that there is a connection between the coup and Niger’s ousted president declining to attend Putin’s Africa summit earlier this month. But others say coups are nothing new in a region that regularly sees them.

Niger has had five successful coups since 1960. This latest one is one of seven – with one in Guinea, one in Gabon, and two each in Burkina Faso and Mali – in West Africa in the past three years, underscoring the region’s moniker, the “coup belt.”

Meanwhile, the European Union has cut off aid and the US has cut $500 million in assistance to the country. The US still has troops in the Niger, however, for now.

The intrigue over the country’s future is far from over.



We’ll be back next week with the latest from around the world.


A Wreck, a Home

Shipwrecks are a lure for divers and history buffs, but they also serve as an important refuge for marine life in areas with heavy fishing, Newsweek reported.

British marine scientists recently explored five shipwrecks off the coasts in northeastern England dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Three of these wrecks were in zones open to fishing trawlers, while two others were in protected areas.

In their paper, they discovered that the abundance of marine life, including fish and corals, was 240 percent greater in wreck sites frequently visited by fishing trawlers.

The seabed within a radius of 164 feet of the wrecks had a density of marine life 340 percent greater than in fishing-controlled sites.

Although the increased presence of marine creatures can attract fishermen, low-lying wrecks usually deter trawlers from targeting them because the nets can become entangled with the underwater debris.

The researchers wrote that shipwrecks “offer a baseline of ecological potential when trawling pressure is reduced or removed,” adding that this is the first study to analyze their role in areas exposed to heavy fishing.

They also proposed that the findings suggest that officials should consider the protection of shipwrecks as a way to help vulnerable wildlife.

“It has long been thought that shipwrecks could be playing an important role in providing sanctuary for marine species to utilize,” said co-author Joe Richards in a statement. “It is brilliant to see this proven in this study.”

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