RFI President Eric Patterson: “Niger, Coups, and Violence in West Africa”

September 11, 2023

RFI President Eric Patterson authored an article published recently in Providence titled, “Niger, Coups, and Violence in West Africa.” “The July, 2023 coup in Niger,” Patterson writes, “has captured global attention as observers note the upward trend in military coups in recent years across Africa.” He continues:

The source of these coups is poorly understood because, while coups d’état are a great spectacle, they are simply reacting to the destabilizing effect of violent Islamists. Whether in Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, or elsewhere, this region is plagued by illicit armed groups, many of whom are fighting under the black flag of militant Islamists such as Boko Haram, al Qaeda, and so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

The situation in the Sahel (the region bordering the Sahara desert that includes northern Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, etc.) is complicated.  Niger, like its neighbors, is a poor country with porous borders in a dangerous neighborhood.  Weapons have flooded the region from the Obama Administration’s disastrous incursion in Libya a decade ago.  Religious ideologies that justify violence, shariah law, and ethno-religious cleansing motivate terrorists.  For instance, more than 100,000 citizens in nearby Nigeria have been killed by Boko Haram and Islamic State-West Africa Province over the past 15 years. Mali has suffered from coups and counter-coups, including a breakaway regional government (“Azawad”) that purported to protect its citizens from violent jihadists.  Next-door Burkina Faso, like some other West African countries, has undergone another military coup that is popularly supported because citizens were frustrated that previous governments have not protected the citizenry. 

There is a pattern of violence in these areas. Radical Islamist terrorists will often cross borders and engage in wanton violence and destruction. Some local elements get involved, often young men with poor economic prospects or other grievances. The first victims are often the average Muslim citizens who are attacked for not supporting or going along with the radical Islamists’ agenda. Terrorists target institutions of authority and learning, from schools to authentic religious leaders. In Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina Faso, terrorists target schools to deny education to boys and girls. Religious leaders, particularly Christian ones, pastors, priests, nuns, and seminarians are then the next targets because they represent ‘foreign’ faiths, despite the fact that both the Christian and the Muslim faiths go back many centuries.

Read the full article: “Niger, Coups, and Violence in West Africa.”