On May 25, at the call of the Union of Nigerien Students (USN), a few thousand students marched through Niamey, the capital of Niger, chanting, “Down with foreign military bases,” “Down with the French army” (Niger is a former French colony), “Down with the American army,” and “Down with the jihadists and Boko Haram.”
Niger is landlocked, just south of Algeria and just north of Nigeria in West Africa. It abuts seven countries, and most of the 23 million Nigeriens inhabit its densely populated south along the Niger River. The rest of the country is in the Sahara Desert. It should not be confused with Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 201 million Nigerians.
Last year, a Boko Haram guerrilla ambush killed four U.S. Special Forces soldiers and exposed a U.S. presence in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world. In mid-May this year, another Boko Haram ambush killed 28 Nigerien soldiers and wounded a dozen more basically in the same locality. The U.S. Special Forces and their French counterparts stood by while their Nigerien allies were taking all these casualties.
The U.N. Human Development Index calculates Niger is the seventh poorest country in the world, with 40 percent of its inhabitants living on less than $1 a day. However, Niger contains one of the world’s largest uranium deposits.
At the May 25 protest, some placards read: “No to sub-contracting our national sovereignty” and “Our territory has been independent since August 3, 1960.” The defense minister of Niger has admitted that he is unsure of what the United States is doing at its base near Agadez, a historic town that grew up as a crossroad trading center in the Trans-Sahara trade. (jeuneafrique.com, May 25)