Africa as the theater of a new proximity war between Russia and the Western bloc? Part 2

Par Roger Motaze, Directeur Scientifique du LAB de The Okwelians

While the Cold War ended more than three decades ago, we are witnessing the resurgence of confrontation between East and West in a new theater, which is none other than Africa. At the expense of the people, it appears once again that geopolitical interests are taking precedence over the stability and development of Africa. We will illustrate our postulate in a series of various papers.

Mali and Niger II

On 18 August 2020, elements of the Malian armed forces unleashed a mutiny, which led to the fall of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. The artisans of this coup were Colonels Malick Diaw and Sadio Camara, both trained at a military academy in Russia.[1]   They immediately set up the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) to ensure the transition at the head of the country. President Keita’s term of office, which began in 2013 after a coup d’état in 2012 ousted Amadou Toumani Touré, coincided with the establishment of a French mission in Mali following Operation Serval and then Barkhane on the territory. Can we see in this strange coincidence, a pass of arms? That would be very hasty. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that Russia’s involvement seems certain, and that its influence exacerbates the historical partner. In response to this coup, the leader of the Western bloc, the United States, directly cut all military ties with the junta. It would seem that the relationship has become rather unfriendly and tumultuous between the Malian people and the French army, the reasons? They are surely multiple and diverse, ranging from the colonial past to Barkhane inefficiency, as Mali is still a victim of terrorist attacks, and jihadist groups are still swarming in the north of the country. In November 2019, demonstrators in Bamako urged Moscow to repel Islamist attacks in Mali as it did in Syria. Even the Malian opposition, like Umar Mariko, praised Russian arms and technical support. During the demonstrations in Bamako following the coup, demonstrators were seen waving Russian banners and holding up posters praising Russia for its « comradeship » with Mali.[2]   

Beyond the security and political aspects, the economic side naturally takes precedence in all cooperation.  On this aspect, it is important to note that the Russian nuclear energy giant Rosatom, which is in direct competition with its French counterpart Areva for contracts in the Sahel, could benefit from favorable relations with the new Malian political authorities.  Similarly, Nordgold, a gold company with investments in Guinea and Burkina Faso, could also expand its mining initiatives in Mali’s gold reserves.[3]   In January 2021, the CNSP is dissolved, leaving room for new elections to be held. The question on everyone’s mind is whether the next Malian authorities will continue to collaborate with Russia or return to the Western bloc, nothing is less certain. What is certain, however, is that the battle between the Russians and the French for control of influence in Mali is likely to continue.


In 2019, the Russian news agency « Sputnik » reported that Russia and Niger signed a contract for the delivery of 12 Mi-35 helicopters.[4]   This information coincided with the Russian will to impose itself on the African continent. This former French colony, member of the G5 Sahel and part of the most dangerous land axis in Africa, that is to say, the area of the three borders, which the country completes with Burkina Faso and Mali, is constantly victim of terrorist groups that criss-cross this sector.  Concluding a military contract with Russia is synonymous with disavowal of the former metropolis. This country, which broke relations with the USSR after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, has in fact always had a socialist influence, verifiable with the accession to power of President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was brought to power when he headed the PNDS-Tarayya (the Nigerian Party for Democracy and Socialism,) which is part of the socialist international. Following a protocol signed in October 2016 in Niamey, Niger and Russia decided to strengthen their cooperation in several sectors, including energy, mining, infrastructure and security.[5]  This agreement puts the previous ones in difficulty when the exploitation of resources was essentially done by France.  Exports to France of uranium from the Arlit mines, located in northern Niger, have for a long time constituted a significant part of the country’s foreign income.[6]   

In addition, in January 2009, the government of President Mamadou Tandja of Niger and the president of Areva’s board of directors signed a strategic mining agreement granting the French nuclear group an operating permit for the Imouraren deposit, presented by Areva as the most important uranium mine in all of Africa and the second largest in the world.[7]    In 2019, the two countries, through their Ministers of Foreign Affairs, decided to extend cooperation in the political, commercial, economic and humanitarian spheres. This political cooperation has enabled Niger to gain immeasurable support from Russia in multilateral organizations, as well as for its election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in fiscal year 2020-20201.  This is to say that the battle continues to rage between the two blocs.

Work Cited

  1. “Was Russia behind the coup in Mali?”, DW,  June 26, 2020.
  2. « Areva, maître de la plus grande mine d’uranium d’Afrique »,Site du collectif « Areva ne fera pas la loi au Niger », September 1st, 2009.
  3. Ramani, Samuel. “Why Russia is a Geopolitical Winner in Mali’s Coup”, Foreign Policy Research Institute, September 16th, 2020.

[1] “Was Russia behind the coup in Mali?”, DW,  June 26, 2020.

[2] Samuel Ramani, “Why Russia is a Geopolitical Winner in Mali’s Coup”, Foreign Policy Research Institute, September 16th, 2020.

[3] Idem

[4] Idem

[5] « Areva, maître de la plus grande mine d’uranium d’Afrique »,Site du collectif « Areva ne fera pas la loi au Niger », September 1st, 2009.

[6] Idem

[7] Mona Saanouni, “Le Niger achète 12 hélicoptères de combat russes”, Anadolu Agency,| October 23rd, 2019.

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