The Emperor’s New Clothes

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Protest broke out in Niger’s capital of Niamey over the weekend, with demonstrators demanding the departure of US troops, after the ruling junta shifted its strategy by ending a military accord with the US and welcomed its first delegation of Russian military personnel, Reuters reported.

The crowd waved Nigerien flags in a demonstration that recalled anti-French protests which spurred the withdrawal of the French military from Niger last year after Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown by the military, the newswire wrote. “We’re here to say no to the American base, we don’t want Americans on our soil,” said protester Maria Saley.

Last month, the junta revoked a deal that had stationed 1,000 US soldiers in two bases, to help the former government fight Islamist insurgents in the Sahel region. Niger has long been an important strategic partner in fighting Islamist extremists.

Mali and Burkina Faso – which also had military coups over the past few years and are run by military juntas – also have ended deals with their erstwhile Western allies, partnered with Russia, and quit the regional bloc, ECOWAS, which had also taken steps to oppose Niger’s junta following the coup.

On Wednesday, Russian military instructors and equipment arrived in Niger, part of an initiative by Moscow to boost its influence on the continent. According to the Institute for the Study of War, the Russians are part of the Africa Corps, the new paramilitary structure replacing the Wagner Group, the military contractor whose mercenaries spread in Africa until its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed last year.

Even so, the equipment that Russia is supplying isn’t likely to be used in the fight against the insurgents but more to protect the junta from ECOWAS, the BBC wrote.

At the same time, a senior US official said that despite the demonstration and public calls for US troops to leave, senior ministers in Niger’s government were privately requesting the US not to abandon the deal or Niger completely, the New York Times reported. As a result, there is no timetable yet as to when the US military personnel will leave.

Meanwhile, analysts told the BBC they fear that as Niger moves closer to countries outside the Western bloc including Russia, China and Iran, the alliance with Russia could encourage the junta to delay further a return to civilian rule, as has happened in neighboring Mali.

Still, protesters said they don’t want Russia to replace France or the US as “occupiers.”

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