Washington supports Niger, a stable country in the Sahel in crisis

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken came on Thursday to offer his support to Niger, a stable country in a region plagued by jihadist violence where Russia is scoring points.

Mr Blinken is the first head of US diplomacy to visit the former French colony, which is a key military base for Western forces in the fight against jihadists in the Sahel.

Following a meeting with President Mohamed Bazoum, he announced $150 million in new humanitarian aid for the Sahel region, including Niger, bringing the total for 2023 to $233 million.

“Niger was quick to defend democratic values ​​at risk in neighboring countries,” Blinken told a news conference, referring to the leadership of putschist troops in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Before meeting with President Bazoum, he began his visit with a meeting with repentant jihadists who benefit from a $20 million reintegration program funded by the United States.

He declared after the meeting that the program was going to offer these former jihadists “a better alternative” and that “from our point of view, it’s really a model”.

In Ethiopia on Wednesday, Blinken said his visit to the two countries was part of President Joe Biden’s pledge to be “for Africa with Africa”.

The Biden administration wants to do more to counter the growing influence of China and – more recently – Russia there.

Mali, a country bordering Niger, has drawn closer to Russia and broken a military alliance with France and its allies in the anti-jihadist fight.

Westerners claim mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner are in Mali, which Bamako denies, referring to Russian trainers.

In February, Mali was one of six countries that supported Russia by voting against a UN General Assembly resolution urging Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine on the anniversary of the ‘invasion’.

– “Positive Example” –

Another neighbor of Niger, Burkina Faso, ruled by putschists and facing jihadist violence, has also drawn closer to Russia and demanded the departure of 400 French special forces troops based in Ouagadougou.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Hassoumi Masoudou said, “We note that the security situation has further deteriorated and we are very concerned about this deterioration in Burkina.”

He added, however, that “the information we have does not allow us to say that Wagner is currently in Burkina Faso”. According to him, these “criminal” and “mercenary” groups exist only in “failed or failed states”.

In this context, Niger has become an essential ally of France in its military efforts in West Africa: a thousand soldiers are stationed there.

The United States also built and operates Air Base 201 in the heart of the desert country, where drones were flown to attack and monitor the jihadists.

The history of independent Niger has been marked by a series of coups since 1974, the last of which occurred in 2010.

It achieved stability in 2011 following the election of Mahamadou Issoufou, who is due to retire in 2021, for the first peaceful transfer of power between two elected presidents in this country.

President Bazoum’s action was welcomed in Washington, especially during a summit of African leaders hosted by Joe Biden in the US capital in December.

A senior US official traveling with Mr Blinken said the purpose of the trip was to support the efforts of President Bazoum, who criticizes the Wagner Group’s actions.

“We believe they are making the right choices in dealing with common threats in the Sahel. So we are trying to highlight a positive example,” the official said. forces.

“Frankly, Niger is in a very difficult situation” he continued, but “despite all these challenges, the authorities are really trying to do the right thing”.

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