The cold war heats up in the Sahel

The cold war heats up in the Sahel
Kieran Baker

If there was an indicator of Russia’s increasing influence across Africa it could not be clearer than in the Sahel. Just over a week ago Niger’s junta said it was ending it’s yearslong military cooperation with the U.S.

According to the AP Niger had been seen as one of the last countries in the region that Western nations could partner with to offset the growing jihadi insurgencies. For example, the U.S. and France had more than 2,500 military personnel in the region until recently, and together with other European countries had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance and training. So, what happened?  

Tensions and conflicts in the Sahel region, particularly in countries like Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania, have been primarily driven by a complex web of factors including ethnic rivalries, economic instability, weak governance, and the spread of extremist groups like Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and ISIS-affiliated groups. It was the concern of extremist groups that brought external involvement by global powers such as France, the United States, and others. The others, for different reasons, being Russia.  

A very good editorial by Le Monde explains the decision of Niger's ruling junta to demand the immediate withdrawal of US troops from the country, it says “marks the nation's will for a genuine reversal of alliance, with Niamey now an ally of Moscow.” The eviction of U.S. troops by the Nigerian junta came on the heels of France’s withdrawal and as Le Monde suggests, it is the start of a return to a "cold war," such as in the 1960s-1990s, after decolonization, Africa became a battle ground for proxy confrontations between the East and West. History it seems repeats itself.  

Russia has recently returned to the region as a proxy for infrastructure and armaments – using primarily Libya as a stepping off point for the continent. It is also the supplier of military aid and manpower in the form of a post Wagner Group operation sanctioned by the Kremlin. Iran is not far behind with its influence and America’s loss is both Russia and Iran’s gain. 

The U.S. is particularly hit by Niger’s decision and can only reflect on its approach throughout the region- seemingly now looking like a miscalculation. What’s even more worrying is as Le Monde states: 

“Washington was also concerned about a possible rapprochement between Tehran and Niamey, motivated by Niger’s uranium deposits, given the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions.” The strategic setback appears even more significant as Africa’s cold war seems to be heating up again. 


Kieran Baker is an Emmy award winning journalist who has started up various networks including Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg TV Africa and TRT World. 

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