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A Coup in Niger
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A Coup in Niger

The new junta puts the U.S. and France in a difficult position.

Happy Monday! Congratulations to Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who over the weekend set a standard for good governance to which political leaders throughout the Americas can aspire.

“I wish him luck and strength,” he tweeted after his son Nicolás was hit with charges related to money laundering and drug trafficking. “May these events strengthen his character and let him reflect on his own errors.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Biden administration announced Friday it will transfer $345 million worth of weaponry from Pentagon stockpiles to Taiwan, with MQ-9 Reaper drones and small arms ammunition reportedly making up the bulk of the package. Congressional lawmakers granted the Biden administration up to $1 billion in such drawdown authority for the island this year; the shipment announced Friday—which a Chinese Communist Party spokesperson said would not “shake our firm will to realize the reunification of our motherland”—was the first tranche the White House announced.
  • At least 54 people were killed—and up to 200 more injured—by an explosion at a political party gathering in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber-Pakhunkhwa province on Sunday, just months before elections in the country are set to take place. Local police believe a suicide bomber was behind the attack—which targeted members of the religious Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl party (JUI-F)—but no group had formally taken responsibility as of Sunday night. ISIS and other jihadist groups have previously carried out attacks on JUI-F members, who they believe are not hardline enough.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported Friday on email exchanges between Facebook executives and Biden administration officials—obtained by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee—that seem to indicate Facebook shaped its COVID-19 content moderation guidelines in response to demands from the Biden administration in mid-2021 as it sought to get its vaccination campaign off the ground. “Can someone quickly remind me why we were removing—rather than demoting/labeling—claims that Covid is man made,” Nick Clegg, the tech company’s president of global affairs, wrote in a July 2021 email, according to the Journal. “We were under pressure from the administration and others to do more,” a colleague replied. “We shouldn’t have done it.”
  • The Justice Department announced Thursday that it will open a civil rights investigation into the Memphis Police Department to determine whether police officers routinely discriminate against black civilians and use excessive force. The investigation follows the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols earlier this year. The DOJ recently concluded a similar probe of the Minneapolis Police, finding officers’ behavior there often violated residents’ constitutional rights.
  • Brazil’s Justice Ministry said Thursday it would not extradite Sergey Cherkasov, an alleged Russian spy under indictment in the United States serving a five-year prison sentence in Brazil for document fraud. The U.S. had reportedly hoped to use Cherkasov—who allegedly posed as a Brazilian graduate student in Washington, D.C.—as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia for a detained American such as Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.
  • Norfolk Southern—the railroad operator whose train full of toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this year—more than doubled its original estimate of the costs related to the Ohio accident last week, now forecasting cleanup and various penalties will exceed $800 million. The company has thus far paid $287 million in costs related to the derailment, which forced thousands to evacuate their homes. 
  • Yellow, the nearly century-old trucking company, shut down operations over the weekend and—facing both a debt crisis and a standoff with the Teamsters union—is expected to file for bankruptcy. The company received a $700 million federal loan during the pandemic but was informing staff at locations across the country in recent days that they would be let go.
  • Seeking to quash any speculation about his future after his public freeze-up last week, the 81-year-old Sen. Mitch McConnell issued a statement through a spokesperson making clear he does not plan to step down as Republican leader before 2025. “Leader McConnell appreciates the continued support of his colleagues,” the statement reads, “and plans to serve his full term in the job they overwhelmingly elected him to do.”
  • In a statement published by People magazine Friday evening, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden publicly acknowledged their seventh grandchild, four-year-old Navy Joan Roberts, for the first time. “Our son Hunter and Navy’s mother, Lunden, are working together to foster a relationship that is in the best interests of their daughter,” the statement read. “This is not a political issue, it’s a family matter.” President Biden had for months maintained he only had six grandchildren.

A Coup in Niger

A Nigerien policeman stands as Nigerien cadets paradeas supporters rally in support of Niger’s junta in Niamey on July 30, 2023. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

Late last week, Mohamed Bazoum, the besieged president of Niger, posted a message of defiance online. “The hard-won achievements will be safeguarded,” he wrote on X, the website formerly known as Twitter. “All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom will see to it.” 

If only ‘X’ing’ made it so. The country, once seen as a beacon of democracy in West Africa’s “coup belt,” is now facing a military takeover of its own, forcing Western nations to rethink their relationships with a key regional ally in the fight against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Last Wednesday, a contingent of military officers that included members of the presidential guard—Et tu, Brute?—took Bazoum and his family hostage, declaring the constitution dissolved and the government suspended. Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane of the Nigerien Air Force—a spokesperson for the coup—went on state television, flanked by nine fellow conspirators, to inform Nigeriens they had “put an end to the regime that you know due to the deteriorating security situation and bad governance.” 

The effort had all the trappings of a classic military coup: a curfew was quickly enforced, the country’s borders were sealed, and the conspirators named themselves the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country. Before long, other leaders in the country began to fall in line. Partly in an effort to “avoid a deadly confrontation between the various forces,” for example, Gen. Abdou Sidikou Issa, Niger’s military’s chief, appeared to throw his support behind the coup. And on Friday, Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani—the leader of the presidential guard who also goes by the first name Omar—declared himself the head of the new junta. There are unconfirmed reports that Bazoum wanted to remove Tchiani as commander of the guard earlier this year, which could have motivated the putsch. Bazoum’s predecessor, President Mahamadou Issoufou created the guard as a kind of coup insurance against the wider military. (The same guard actually blocked a coup attempt against Bazoum when he took office two years ago.)

Western leaders have panned the conspirators. “We condemn any effort to seize power by force,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday at a press conference in New Zealand. “We’re actively engaged with the Nigerien government, but also with partners in the region and around the world and will continue to do so until the situation is resolved appropriately and peacefully.” French President Emmanuel Macron called for Bazoum to be freed and signaled support for regional sanctions—both France and the European Union suspended hundreds of millions in development assistance provided to Niger. And Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu issued a strong statement of solidarity with his northern neighbor. “We shall not waiver or flinch on our stand to defend and preserve constitutional order,” he said.  

Tinubu also serves as the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)—a key economic bloc that held an emergency summit on the coup this weekend. ECOWAS gave the putschists an ultimatum: stand down within a week and release Bazoum or face military intervention. If the junta refuses, the West African nations affirmed they would “take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order” and “such measures may include the use of force.” The group announced an immediate no-fly zone over Niger, border closures, and the levying of financial sanctions against the coup leaders. 

ECOWAS is likely betting Tchiani lacks the full-fledged backing of the military and that the threat of force will weaken his position. But if he has consolidated enough support, then a military confrontation could quickly turn bloody. “We want to once more remind ECOWAS or any other adventurer, of our firm determination to defend our homeland,” Abdramane warned

The new junta puts the U.S. and France in a challenging position. Both countries have bet big on Niger as a security partner to stem the tide of Islamist violence in the region. Approximately, 1,100 American and 1,500 French troops are currently stationed in the country. U.S. Special Forces have trained and advised the Nigerien commandos on counterinsurgency missions, and the country hosts a large U.S. drone base that is “important for U.S. intelligence gathering in the broader Sahel region,” Chris Faulkner, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, tells TMD (speaking in his own personal capacity). The French forces partner even more actively, conducting combat missions alongside the Nigerien military. (The European Union, Germany, and Italy also maintain smaller military presences in the country).

Should the coup hold, American and European security cooperation will most likely cease. It would be illegal for the U.S. to provide security assistance to a government that has come to power through a coup. “The State Department has to declare that there was a coup, and they might drag their feet in doing that,”  Michael Shurkin, a former CIA analyst and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, tells TMD. “But then once they declare it’s a coup, then it’s game over.” Blinken hedged on the point last week. “Whether this constitutes a coup technically or not, I can’t say, that’s for the lawyers to say, but what it clearly constitutes is an effort to seize power by force and to disrupt the constitution,” he said. Officials have not announced any plans to pull forces or evacuate diplomatic missions in Niger, but that could change as the situation develops. Thousands of pro-coup protestors marched to the French embassy Sunday and set fire to a perimeter door but were dispersed by the military. 

The West is running out of partners in the region. “Niger has increasingly been seen as one of the last bastions in the Sahel [and] West Africa that was crucial for counterterrorism but also seemed to be showing more optimistic signs about governance and democracy,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, the co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Africa Security Initiative, tells TMD. The country’s neighbors to the West along the Sahel—a strip of semi-arid land below the Sahara Desert—have struggled with insurgent violence and political instability. Mali and Burkina Faso have experienced two coups each since 2020. France ended a nine-year military mission in Mali last year due largely to the coup, and the junta in Burkina Faso pushed out French forces earlier this year. Niger itself has seen 5 coups since gaining independence from France in 1960—before last week, the most recent military coup occurred in 2010.

Bazoum’s election in 2021 marked the first democratic, peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history. Bazoum “is relatively competent and had a big picture view of things, meaning he understood you needed to deal with security stuff, but you also needed to push economic development, agriculture reform, etc,” Shurkin tells TMD

Yet regardless of political leadership, Niger still faced steep challenges, Shurkin explains. Islamist insurgencies including an Islamic State affiliate group in the East and Boko Haram in the West plague the country. The South experiences spillover violence from Nigeria, and to the North lies the failed state of Libya. Plus, Niger is one of the poorest countries and has the world’s youngest population—49 percent of the country’s population is aged 14 or younger.  

Political instability will only compound those problems, and Russia’s mercenary force the Wagner Group is already positioning itself to take advantage. “What happened is the struggle of the people of Niger against the colonialists,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said last week. “This is actually gaining independence and getting rid of the colonialists.” Such a pitch worked in Mali where Wagner mercenaries “have adopted a ‘we’re going to be more hawkish than the French might have been, and we’re going to shoot first ask questions later’ [approach],” Faulkner tells TMD. “They promise enhanced security. I don’t think they actually deliver enhanced security.” (The U.S. sanctioned three Malian officials last week over their ties to Wagner—civilian deaths have increased 278 percent since Wagner entered the country with many deaths resulting from Wagner-Malian military operations, according to the State Department.) 

Some of the protestors in Niger’s capital city, Niamey, have waved Russian flags and shouted “Long live Putin” and “Down with France.” There is no evidence that Russia or Wagner played a role in the coup, and the junta has not made any public statements aligning themselves with Russia. It’s also difficult to gauge levels of popular support for or opposition to the coup. But Tchiani could potentially tap into anti-Western views that are popular in the country. “A lot of people think that ultimately all the terrorism problems are France’s fault and that France has actually been arming the jihadists,” Shurkin tells TMD. “It’s utter nonsense, but a lot of people think this.”

“It would not be surprising at all if the regime were to avail itself of these easy explanations like conspiracy theories about France or to use anti-French rhetoric as a way to gain popular legitimacy,” he adds. 

Bazoum was a staunch ally of France and the U.S. and understood the importance of Western security assistance. But short of the president returning to power, the path for continued military support is uncertain at best. “The West has lost presence in so many other of the Sahel countries,” Felbab-Brown tells TMD. “It’s like the last outpost.”

Worth Your Time

  • In Foreign Affairs, GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Aaron MacLean, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, draw parallels between the U.S. Korean War seven decades ago and the burgeoning conflict over Taiwan. “In the light of China’s aggressions today, the United States must understand how China is using the Korean War’s legacy as a form of political preparation for wars to come,” they write. “The Korean War is ambiguously sandwiched in the U.S. public consciousness between memories of victory in World War II and perceptions of tragedy in Vietnam. An elite consensus has settled on approval of President Harry Truman’s leadership during the Korean War, particularly his focus on preventing escalation. At the time, however, Americans took a dimmer view of Truman’s handling of the conflict, which opened with shocking military setbacks and continued for two years of self-imposed, costly stalemate before ending in a frustrating armistice. Americans have long struggled to interpret, let alone celebrate, this brutal but limited action fought in a secondary theater, coming so soon after victory and ending in a tie. But the American tendency to forget the truth and the Chinese eagerness to remember a complicated mix of fact and fiction offer their own lessons, which are especially relevant in view of potential for war over Taiwan.”
  • Last week, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf essentially admitted a regulation he supported—mandating warning labels for products containing sesame seeds—completely backfired. “With the passage of the FASTER Act, the FDA and families with sesame-allergic members hoped that it would become easier for those allergic to sesame to feel more confident in their food choices with the clear label declaration of sesame as a major food allergen,” he wrote. “I don’t think anyone envisioned there being a decrease in the availability of products that are safe choices for sesame allergic consumers.” Except plenty of people envisioned just that. “The food producers were simply doing what made economic sense,” Eric Boehm writes for Reason. “The FDA’s fines for not disclosing the inclusion of sesame are steep, and it’s much cheaper to add a few seeds to everything than to face potential penalties for accidental mixing. ‘Rather than worry about how to prevent potential cross-contamination in products that don’t contain sesame, some restaurants and food makers—including Olive Garden, Chick-fil-A, and Wendy’s—are simply adding sesame to their products. That way they can list it as an ingredient and not worry about being faulted for accidental contamination,’ Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote last year. The result? Fewer sesame seed-free products are now available for people who are allergic.”

Presented Without Comment

New York Times: [Democratic] Rep. Dean Phillips [of Minnesota] Says He Is Considering a Run Against Biden

Also Presented Without Comment

Axios: GOP Congressman Defends Profanity-Laced Rant at Teens in Capitol

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Scientific American: 46,000-Year-Old Worm Possibly Revived From Siberian Permafrost

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Sarah and Mike dove into (🔒) Trump’s superseding indictment, Price explored (🔒) the debate over mandatory pilot retirement ages in the context of Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, the Dispatch Politics team looked at presidential fundraising on both the Republican and Democratic side, Chris weighed in (🔒) on Ron DeSantis’ various missteps, Nick offered (🔒) one half-hearted cheer for the gerontocracy, and Jonah reminded readers the New Right is neither new nor right before catching them up on his recent travels.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David broke down the latest Trump legal developments while Jonah detailed his recent travels across the pond.
  • On the site over the weekend: Leah Libresco Sargeant dissected the myopic version of womanhood presented in Barbie and Quill Robinson argued conservatives should not let their disdain for the modern environmental movement drive them into anti-environmentalism.
  • On the site today: Harvest reports from the southern border, and Mike Watson of the Hudson Institute argues for a stronger relationship between the U.S. and India.

Let Us Know

What is the proper U.S. role when events like the coup in Niger take place?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Jacob Wendler is an intern for The Dispatch.