Paris has vowed to protect its interests in the country, which cut off supplies of the critical material after a coup.
French President Emmanuel Macron was quick to react to a domestic conflict happening 6,000km away from Paris, saying that France would respond immediately to any violence towards French interests in the wake of a coup in the former French colony of Niger. What could it possibly be about uranium-rich Niger that has Macron so worried?
The coup’s leaders have made it clear that any outside intervention would be met with force. They also accused France of wanting to intervene militarily to reinstate the deposed president. French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna rejected the suggestion, saying that “France’s only priority is the safety of our nationals.” Where have we seen that kind of coyness before? How about Libya, where a French-led ‘humanitarian’ mission to protect African civilians ultimately devolved into a Western-backed coup against the national leader?
Where would the coup leaders in Niger possibly have gotten the idea that France had any interest in intervening militarily in its former colony anyway? It might have something to do with a statement put out by the French presidential palace on Sunday, saying that “anyone attacking French nationals, the army, diplomats and interests would see France respond immediately and intractably.”
And by French interests, they especially mean one thing in particular – uranium. Niger is France’s top supplier of the mineral, providing 15% of the country’s total supply and a fifth of the European Union’s. It’s an absolutely critical element for powering France’s nuclear reactors. France’s energy independence is, ironically, dependent on Niger. It’s like the rich kid who drives a Ferrari provided by daddy but comes across as a self-made success at first glance. So it’s not hard to imagine that uranium is rather high on the list of those French interests that Paris insists on protecting.
The incentive for France to intervene in Niger is certainly growing since the junta now in charge has cut off exports of both uranium and gold to France. All of this comes at a really bad time for Paris, which has become even more reliant on its nuclear power after cutting itself off from cheap Russian gas with the rest of the EU to impress Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky – in the same way that college frat guys get hyped up and then do dumb things like jumping off the roof to impress girls.
Germany is already on the verge of deindustrializing because Europe’s economic engine can’t run on wind and Sun. Who knew? Apparently not Berlin. But at least France hadn’t completely bought into Berlin’s green fantasies and mothballed all its nuclear plants, though Macron was certainly heading in that direction.
So, Plan B after the Russian gas cutoff was to power them back up. Which France is now going to have to do without Niger’s uranium. But that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Because France has other suppliers, like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Except, who largely controls the transport of these supplies to Europe? Russian state nuclear power company Rosatom. That doesn’t really leave Paris with much wiggle room.
“I will be clear: France is not dependent on Russia for the operation of its nuclear power infrastructure,” French Energy Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said last year. That’s because you still had Niger. So, what now?
Lost in all of these selfish foreign interests is the will of the citizens of Niger. The passion that France and the West have shown for reinstating the former president suggests that he was adequately catering to their needs. The outpouring of citizens in the streets, however, suggests that he wasn’t adequately catering to theirs.
Colonna suggested that the situation was ripe for exploitation by Russia, but whose fault is that? France’s longstanding military omnipresence and relationships with leaders in the Sahel region of Africa have already resulted in being tossed out of the region, thereby creating a vacuum for new potential partnerships with these countries, particularly with nations that aren’t going to just serve as a Trojan Horse for US interests, as France tends to do.
When it comes to the conflict in Ukraine, Macron makes it all about the interests of the Ukrainians. But when unrest breaks out in Niger, it’s all about French interests. He said the quiet part out loud, for once. Maybe because Washington left him without talking points on an issue that’s of greater strategic importance to Europe than to America. It wasn’t that long ago that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was undressing France on the world stage and exposing its colonial interests in all their glory. When she was in the opposition back in 2019, Meloni called the Franc of the Financial Community of Africa (a controversial currency used in 14 African countries, pegged to the euro and printed in France) the “colonial currency,” to which France “applies seigniorage and by virtue of which it exploits the resources of these nations.”
However Macron might try to dress up and his actions and frustrations as ‘defending democracy’, when it comes to Africa, at this point, France is standing there on the world stage with its interests hanging out of its premium Lacoste boxers.