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The Kremlin’s proxy war in Africa

Protesters wave Nigerien and Russian flags in Niger’s capital, Niamey. AFP/Getty

The recent coup in Niger was essentially sparked by a “staffing problem”, says Andreas Kluth in Bloomberg. “A general heard that he might be fired and decided instead to oust the leader he was meant to protect.” But it could have far-reaching consequences. Since 2020, there have been more than half a dozen putsches in the Sahel, “the arid and wretched savannas south of the Sahara”. And if the coups in Burkina Faso and Mali are any guide, here’s what’ll happen next in Niger: the junta will kick out the French and American anti-terrorism troops stationed there, and throw itself into the arms of Vladimir Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner mercenary army.

For years, Wagner “has been fighting for the worst kind of people in Africa, hawking its services in return for concessions to diamonds or other riches of the soil”. Now we have the prospect of a new proxy war to add to the one under way in Ukraine. The Economic Community of West African States, a bloc led by Nigeria, has stopped trade with Niger and shut off electricity exports; there have been hints of possible military intervention if the pro-American president, Mohamed Bazoum, isn’t restored to power. “On cue, the pro-Russian regimes in Burkina Faso and Mali answered that they’d then come to the aid of the new leaders in Niger.” If we’re not careful, we might move “another step closer to World War III”.