Season of coup in African Sahel for Russian & Western Allies

By Levina

Last week a coup in Niger was a confirmation that the season of coup in Africa hasn’t ended as popularly believed, this is a new epoch of tussle for resources between allies of Russian and Western countries, especially France & America in the Sahel region. Niger is one of most recent countries to manifest a coup when other resource rich countries of Africa’s Sahel region including Sudan, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Guinea have either witnessed coups already or are in the process.

A year ago, nobody would have imagined that Ukraine- Russia conflict would spill into Africa too. This is a war for resources and currency.

Some of the African countries began vacillating between America and Russia as early as 2021. Without an iota of doubt, most of these countries are rich in minerals like Gold, Uranium and oil. In Africa, France has been on the backfoot in many countries, and terrorism has seen a surge. According to American media there are about 3500 to 4500 Wagner personnel in Africa. Meanwhile, America itself has 29 bases across Africa in 15 African countries, and about 6000 soldiers with the highest concentrations in Sahelian states (from Mauritania in the east to Eritrea in the west) and in the Horn of Africa in the east (which includes Djibouti). Whilst France has about 3000 soldiers deployed in Sahel region of Africa. This article is in continuation to the author’s previous article from March 2022—War of Mercenaries.

War of resources & currency

Sahel resources

Sahel region is one of the richest in the world in terms of natural resources, including oil, gold and uranium. As is evident from the map that the countries in the Sahel region are the ones which are either under the threat of coup or have faced a Military coup.  

The hard-hitting fact is that more than 50% of the population in this region lives below the poverty line and many countries are confronted with the threat of terrorism. 

CFA FRANC—the Currency

The West African CFA franc, which is used in eight West African countries, and the Central African CFA franc, which is used in six Central African countries, are both referred to as CFA Francs. Members of the CFA deposited half of their foreign exchange holdings with the French Treasury, and the exchange rate between the two CFA francs and the euro is fixed at exactly €1 = F.CFA 655.957. Only two changes to this exchange rate have been made, in 1948 and 1994.  Although the CFA Franc is a bulwark of stability, it has been criticised for limiting the sovereignty of the African member states. Both are convertible, with pegs to the euro provided by France. Each zone’s nations pool their foreign exchange reserves, with the French required to get half of them. On the boards of the central banks are French representatives.  In the franc zone, annual income growth has averaged 1.4% since the euro’s launch, compared to 2.5% throughout all of sub-Saharan Africa. A slow and controlled development along the region has been one of the main grouses against France in the region.

Operation Barkhane & Terrorism in Sahel

As an aftermath of the Libyan civil war, two jihadist organisations Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), received weapons in Mali in 2013. To counter an effort by Islamist extremists to overthrow the Malian government, France began a military intervention. This was Operation Serval. After the French operation was a success in 2014, France made the decision to maintain stability in the larger Sahel region by assisting local governments there in battling terrorism. Operation Barkhane, which targeted insurgents, started in August 2014 and was finally completed in November 2022. France’s inability to whittle down the rise of terrorism lead to massive displeasure among the countries in Sahel region. A new generation of African leaders’ desire to diversify their international allies, coupled with the failure to exterminate violent extremist organisations, let Russia fill the void left by the French forces. France’s setbacks in Africa as Russia increased it’s footprint in Africa, was a cause of concern for America and other western countries too.   Lets take a look at the different countries which faced turmoil recently.


  1. Niger: July 2023, From poverty to resource security

The military junta took over last week and installed Gen. Abdourahamane Tiani, the former commander of the presidential guard, as president. The soldiers barricaded President Mohamed Bazoum inside his presidential palace. After demonstrators attempted to enter its embassy in the nation’s capital, Niamey, on July 30, France issued a warning that it would retaliate if French citizens were attacked. Bazoum has received support from the US, UN, EU, France, and others, who have called for his release immediately since he continues to be a crucial ally in a region plagued by militancy and insecurity, where many nations have turned away from the West as it competes with Russia for influence. For Europe, Niger has been a bulwark to control African migration flows, as well as an important source of uranium. Meanhwile, the US continues to operate a $110 million drone base in Agadez, Niger, which is crucial to the security, surveillance, and intelligence operations of American forces in the area.

Resources: Niger is the world’s 7th-biggest producer of uranium, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA) and mineral mining industry is the backbone of Niger’s economy. Ironically, the country was rated the least developed in Sahel region by UN in 2021. France had been operating one of the major mining operations in Niger’s North, run by France’s state-owned Orano.

  • Sudan: April 2023, Russian loyalty tested

The Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia have been engaged in combat since April 15 this year.  It is interesting to note that the two most prominent generals in Sudan—who had just 18 months back planned a military coup together, were the ones who ended up fighting each other during the coup this April. One of them was Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to whom the armed forces of the country are loyal to, and the other Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, heads RSF (rapid support forces). After Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in 2019, there were supposed to be two years of political transition leading to the installation of the first civilian government in 30 years, before the coup in April. At least 3000 people have died and 6000 have been injured in the war during the past three months. Western media claims Russian Wagner has been supplying Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces with missiles to aid their fight against the country’s army. Au contraire, Russia says it supports both the sides and wants to see peace in Sudan.

Resources: Sudan is the 3rd largest producer of the gold in Africa. Russian group Wagner operates a gold processing plant in Sudan. Oil is also an important export industry in Sudan. France was interested in investing in Sudan in field of natural gas and alternative energy sources, ergo offered its support to the Sudanese transitional government in 2019.

  • Chad:  March 2023, the surprise package

Chad has been a pro-Western nation in the Sahel for the past three decades. The nation is also claims to have one of the strongest militaries in the area.  During a rebel group’s offensive in 2021 in Chad, the then-president Idriss Deby was slain. Mahamat Deby, his son, ascended to power on the same day. During Operation Barkhane, Chad collaborated with France and supported the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali, the Multinational Joint Task Force to combat Boko Haram, and the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which is supported by the United Nations. The United States forewarned the president of Chad earlier in March this year, that Russian Wagner forces were planning to assassinate him and three important advisers, and that Russia was supporting Chadian rebels massing in the nearby Central African Republic. Moscow is also recruiting supporters among Chad’s ruling class, including cabinet officials and the president’s half-brother. Later in April, eleven men accused of planning a “coup d’etat” in Chad were sentenced to 20 years in prison.   It is interesting to note that Mahamat Idriss Deby and Mohamed Bazoum met in Niamey, the capital of Niger. Bazoum hasn’t been seen since the military imprisoned him following a coup last week. Chad is currently leading mediation attempts to put an end to the Niger issue.

Resources: Chad is rich in gold, oil and uranium. In 1976, Colonel Gaddafi’s men annexed the Aozou Strip of Chad (rich in oil and Uranium), but Chad Army recaptured it in 1986. In Chad, oil was discovered as early as the 1950s, but for a very long period, no one wanted to exploit it as the region was not peaceful. Finally in the year 2000, World Bank agreed to finance the pipeline using public funds, so that private companies Exxon, Chevron, and Petronas could ship their crude oil from the Chad to port of Kribi in Cameroon. The oil could then be shipped to refineries in Europe or the United States and sold there at prices that would not be affected by the expense of the transportation infrastructure.

  • Mali: July 2023, from being staunchest west ally to enemy

On July 24, the terrorist organisation Al-Qaida made a suicide bomber attack claim against the Russian Wagner PMC in the Molodo district of Mali. Russian Wagner employees had also experienced terrorist attacks earlier in May. In just two years, from 2020 to 2021, the nation experienced two coups. In its nine-year campaign against rebel combatants, France was Mali’s most steadfast ally. However, in January 2022, the French ambassador was expelled, and the following month, France announced the withdrawal of its forces from Mali. While France’s power saw a decay Russia was making in roads into one of the most unstable regions of Africa. Russia has been supplying heavy military equipment to Mali forces since 2020. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is a regular visitor in Mali. Whilst Russia claims terrorism has come under control in Mali, western media claims the contrary. The attack on 24th by Al Qaeda is now quoted as a proof.  Mali has also requested UN peace keeping forces to leave the country.

Russian Foreign Minister on his trip to Mali this year

Resources: The most important exploited mineral in Mali is gold, which is also a significant source of foreign exchange.  Mali is the 3rd largest gold producer in Africa. The uranium deposit in southwestern Mali is being explored by Vancouver-based GoviEx Uranium.  

  • Guinea coup: Sep 2021, shedding the western protection

Col. Mamady Doumbouya, a youthful, charming soldier who had led a coup against President Alpha Condé in September 2021, had taken office as Guinea’s interim leader. The ousted leader formerly trusted Col Doumbouya to assist him in maintaining his hold on power in the unstable West African nation. Mamady claims army had little choice but to seize power because of the rampant corruption, disregard for human rights and economic mismanagement under the 83-year-old President Condé. Russia has managed to keep it’s relations strong with Guinea. The relations are so strong that at Russia-Africa summit a diplomat from Guinea decided to wear a shirt with pics of Putin. This incident does tell us a thing or 2 about the relation between the 2 countries. Interestingly, Mamady is ex French Legionnaire.  

Resources: It is no secret that Rusal, the biggest producer of aluminium in Russia, oversees Guinea’s three bauxite mines and aluminium refinery. The world’s greatest bauxite reserves are in this nation.

 What next?

Last year, during a resolution by United Nations on calling on Russia to halt its invasion and withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Africa’s voting piqued everyone’s curiosity. 28 out of 54 (51.8%) were in favour of resolution. Only Eritrea voted against the resolution. But nearly a third refrained from taking sides (17 out of 54) Eight countries were absent. So almost 25 countries from Africa decided not to reveal their true intentions.  

The European Union (EU) and France adopted a resolution in May of this year asking for the inclusion of the Russian private military company Wagner on the list of terrorist organisations. While many argued that this action was not legally enforceable, others said it paved the path for Wagner to face more severe penalties and, in some countries, prosecution on terrorism-related charges. However, Wagner’s coup against Russian President Putin on June 23 postponed the sanctions. Now Putin has decided some Wagner employees will join the armed forces, with the possibility that the remaining employees will join a new private military organisation.

Since 2021, Russia had been preparing to invade Ukraine, and it must have known that after it started its special operation in Ukraine, a plethora of sanctions would be imposed. Russia therefore started expanding its presence in Africa to secure its foundations and income from mining in Africa. In the same period, several coups have occurred in the Sahel region. Many experts argue that the Russian Wagner Group was compelled to spread itself thin in Africa because the West sought to harm Russia’s income from the Sahel region.  

The Sahel region of Africa is notorious for having no enduring peace, which is true for every region on earth with abundant resources.

By Levina

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