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What's Russia's Role in Niger? | Yet Another Military Intervention in Haiti?
Plus: pitch me!
When I first saw news that the democratically elected government in Niger had been toppled in a coup, I initially wondered if Moscow had anything to do with it? After all, the military Junta in neighboring Mali has embraced Moscow, and in neighboring Burkina Faso coup leaders are openly flirting with the Wagner group.
But Niger was different. It was in the process of real democratic consolidation. Jihadist violence was at a two year low, and the economy was starting to pick up. Also, unlike Mali or Burkina Faso, there was no precipitating crisis that lead to the coup. There were no street protests to suggest that a renegade general might harness popular discontent to install himself in power. Instead, what seems to have happened is that a democratically elected president wanted to fire a top general — so the general toppled the government instead.
Still, there seems to be an emerging Russian angle to this that is worth exploring. The second in command in the new Nigerienne Junta just traveled to Burkina Faso and Mali to meet with Wagner representatives, and reportedly asked Wagner for support. Meanwhile, we are starting to see Russian flag wielding pro-coup protesters in the streets of Niamey.
Why is this?
I put that question to Leonardo Villalón, professor of African Politics at the The University of Florida. He’s spent a lifetime studying the politics of this region and was just in Niger a few weeks ago. As he explains, the Junta leaders were never particularly pro-Russian, nor really anti-French (nor anti-American.) Rather, they need ex-post facto justification for the coup.
“What I think is happening is that they need to support having led a coup that didn’t have any immediate precipitating cause,” Villalón told me in the most recent podcast episode. “There weren’t crowds on the street, there wasn’t a political blockage. All of a sudden, for somewhat personal reasons, they had a falling out with the president. And having taken over, they need to find a way to legitimate it and to frame the justification for this coup and mobilize people in support — particularly if they’re facing an imminent invasion or a military intervention from the outside. And inevitably anti-French resonates. You can mobilize people on the streets. And the anti-French [rhetoric] slips into pro-Russian [rhetoric] very easily in the context of the Sahel right now.”
There is a whole lot more to our conversation, including some of the regional dynamics involving ECOWAS, the role of the American and French military in Niger, and how Niger’s vast uranium deposits may factor into the Junta’s decision making. The episode was just published and you can get it here.
Will Kenya Send Troops to Haiti?
Amid a spiraling security vacuum, rampant gang violence, and a worsening humanitarian crisis the government of Haiti is requesting international support. Antonio Guterres has also recommended that a multi-national force deploy to Haiti but no country volunteered to be the tip of the spear. That was until last week when Kenya floated the idea of leading a potential UN-backed military intervention in Haiti.
But is this even a good idea? Can it address the immediate security and humanitarian crisis? What would the goals of such a mission be, and what are the diplomatic and geopolitical dynamics that would inform this kind of intervention? These are the questions on my mind as I head into an interview later this week that will be turned into a future episode. All goes according the plan, a Global Dispatches podcast episode about a potential Kenyan-lead multinational intervention force in Haiti will publish on Thursday. You can get it here as soon as it goes live.
As always, let me know if you have suggestions of people I should interview or topics I should cover. And if you have an op-ed length piece you’d like to share with the kind of professional audience that congregates around Global Dispatches, feel free to pitch me!
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