Nigerien Civilians Calm Despite Threat of Conflict With Benin

The Benin-Niger border crossing is set to be closed as per Niger’s fears that Benin might use the crossing to move ECOWAS troops and French equipment into Niger.

“[Benin] is accused of welcoming and transporting French equipment and ECOWAS soldiers to the border with Niger…At that location, residents say they are less worried.”

On 18 September, the Cameroon-based website,, published the below excerpted French-language article, which highlighted ongoing tensions in the region between Niger and Benin. According to the article, Niger’s military coup leaders, who overthrew the country’s democratically elected leadership in August, are closing the border with Benin. The new coup leaders in Niger allege that Benin is transporting Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) soldiers and French equipment to the border to support a potential invasion of Niger to restore the country’s civilian leadership.[i] The article notes that civilians in the Nigerien town of Gaya, which is situated near the border with Benin, remain unconcerned. Some civilians, for example, point to the longstanding territorial dispute over Lété (Summer) Island in the Niger River between Benin and Niger that began in 1963.[ii] The ramping up of forces on the Nigerien side of the border in response to the alleged ECOWAS actions now resembles that of 1963, but, civilians expect tensions to subside as they did 50 years ago. Nevertheless, geopolitical circumstances are different now. As the second excerpted French-language article from 20 September in Jeune Afrique reported, Niger has significant support in the Sahel from other post-coup countries, such as Mali and Burkina Faso. For example, the article mentioned how Burkina Faso passed a law authorizing the country’s military forces to aid Niger if any other “external army,” such as Benin’s, intervenes in Niger’s domestic affairs. Unlike the border dispute in 1963, the current tensions have a greater probability of reverberating throughout West Africa.


“Niger: l’armée renforce son dispositif à la frontière du Bénin (Niger: the army reinforces its presence on the border with Benin),” (French-language Cameroon-based publication covering Francophone African affairs), 18 September 2023.

Nigerien soldiers reinforced their security measures in Gaya, a border town between Malanville in Benin and Kamba in Niger that is located more than 300 kilometers from Niamey. [Benin] is accused of welcoming and transporting French equipment and ECOWAS soldiers to the border with Niger.

At that location, residents state that they are less worried…. In the years 1963-64 there were tensions between Benin and [Niger] because of Lété Island and there was a law enforcement deployment in Gaya. So this is the second time that we have this type of deployment…,” explained a resident.

“Le Burkina Faso vote une loi autorisant l’envoi de soldats au Niger (Burkina Faso votes for a law authorizing the sending of soldiers to Niger),” Jeune Afrique (French language online publication focusing on pan-African affairs), 20 September 2023.

On September 19, the Transitional Legislative Assembly passed a law authorizing the sending for “three renewable months” a military contingent to neighboring Niger, which has been threatened by an armed intervention of West African countries since the coup of July 26. The law, which was proposed by the transitional government, was unanimously approved by 71 members.These three countries [Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali], which are led by military regimes, signed a charter on September 16 in Bamako to establish an alliance of “collective defense and mutual assistance”, thus creating the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).


[i] On 5 August, Benin announced that it would support ECOWAS to resolve the political unrest in neighboring Niger. Several West African states expressed willingness to military intervene in Niger if ECOWAS sanctioned an intervention. This could, therefore, imply that Benin will become a launchpad for an ECOWAS invasion of Niger if an invasion is sanctioned. See Philip Churm, “Benin pledges support for ECOWAS over Niger,”, 5 August 2023, 2023.

[ii] In the early 1960s, Dahomey (as Benin was known until 1975) and Niger failed to resolve through negotiations their border dispute over Lété (Summer) Island, but both countries’ militaries eventually disengaged from the border region. Ultimately, the International Court of Justice ruled in Niger’s favor in 2011. The island is 16 km long and 4 km wide and is passable by foot for pastoralists from one bank of the river to the other bank during the dry season. For more, see: Markus Kornprobst, “The management of border disputes in African regional subsystems: comparing West Africa and the Horn of Africa,” Journal of Modern African Studies 40:3 (2002), 369-393.

Image Information:

Image: The Benin-Niger border crossing is set to be closed as per Niger’s fears that Benin might use the crossing to move ECOWAS troops and French equipment into Niger.
Source: YoTuT from United States
Attribution: CC x 2.0

Russian Influence Fades in Southern Syria

A Druze man photographed in Suweida Syria, 2008.

“In the last two years, the decline of the Russian role within Syrian territories has become clear…”

Russia’s fading presence and loss of influence in southern Syria was on display during recent antiregime protests by the ethnoreligious Druze minority group in the Syrian province of Suweida.[i] As of mid-September, the protests had been going on for over a month. Russia, which had previously mediated between the regime and the Druze, was nowhere to be seen.[ii] Suweida’s protest movement—which has ebbed and flowed throughout the civil war—was motivated by longstanding deterioration in living conditions.

A prominent Druze leader, speaking to protesters who had been injured by regime forces in mid-September, placed blame for the unrest on local Iranian agents and allies. As reported in the first excerpt, from the Lebanese news website al-Modon, he accused them of stealing Syrian wealth and brainwashing its citizens with a “subversive” ideology. Russia’s absence from the volatile situation in Suweida is as noteworthy as are the strident accusations made against Iran and its local allies. In 2018, Russia had established itself as an effective mediator between the Syrian regime and Sunni rebels from Daraa, the province immediately to the west of Suweida. Russia did so by bringing rebel factions into a Russia-controlled proxy force known as the “5th Corps.” Two years ago, as reported in the second accompanying excerpt, from Qatar’s al-Jazeera, Russia began handing control of its southern proxies to the Syrian regime, and Iran took advantage of this situation through its influence in Syrian Military Intelligence and the Syrian Army’s 4th Division.[iii] Druze discontent with Iran’s influence rose due to Iranian proxies and allies in the regime extracting scarce resources from Suweida’s economy—including lucrative cross-border smuggling routes into Jordan and the Gulf. In 2022, a group of Druze leaders sought Russian assistance in curbing Iran’s local influence, on the assumption that Russia maintained sway in this part of Syria. In response, Russia sent a group of lowly military police with no decision-making powers, in what was a clear hint of waning Russian influence.[iv] The situation has only become starker with the Suweida protest movement. Indeed, as of mid-September, the Kremlin had made no official statement on the protests in Suweida, and Russian government-linked media blamed them on the United States, as noted in the third accompanying excerpt, also from al-Modon. The Kremlin is no longer able to provide even the illusion of influence in this part of Syria. Iran, for its part, appears to have solidified its influence in the south, but in doing so has made itself increasingly unpopular.


“السويداء:الهجري يدعو للجهاد ضد إيران وميليشياتها..بعد استهداف المتظاهرين بالرصاص

(Suweida: al-Hajiri calls for jihad against Iran and its militias… after protesters shot at),” al-Modon (Lebanese news website), 13 September 2023.

He considered that the “security movement” that opened fire on demonstrators in Suwayda was the product of the “corrupt” security services that have been tampering with Syria for years, stressing that the demonstrators should not be drawn into the plan of these agencies to attack the people of Suwayda…

He considered that the authority in Iran is “racist and corrupt” and entered Syria in order to “steal the country and its wealth and change people’s minds in a direction they are not convinced of,” stressing that Iran, its militias, and the Lebanese Hezbollah are “occupiers and we do not accept their presence in Syria…and we announce this publicly.”

كعكة الأسد.. هل يقوي مقتل بريغوجين نفوذ إيران في سوريا؟

(Assad’s cake… will the killing of Prigozhin strengthen Iranian influence in Syria),” al-Jazeera (Qatari news outlet), 6 September 2023.صراع-حول-كعكة-الأسد-هل-يقوي-مقتل

In the last two years, the decline of the Russian role within Syrian territories has become clear. This was not limited to the disappearance of Russian hopes for reaching a political solution to the war that has been going on for more than ten years, but it also amounted to cutting off Russian support for many of Moscow’s agents in Syria…

The Iranians took advantage of this opportunity in order to remove Russia relatively from the scene and capture former proxies whom the Kremlin could no longer support militarily and financially. This happened with the Syrian regime’s Eighth Brigade, one of the most loyal units to Russia within the armed forces in southern Syria, which was reduced. Russia halved the salaries of its members, and in 2022 it completely stopped communicating with the brigade, which prompted the brigade to work for the Syrian Military Intelligence Directorate, one of Iran’s most powerful agents. At the same time, the National Defense Forces militias east of Deir ez-Zor, led by Hassan al-Ghadhban, separated from Moscow. In favor of the Iranian-backed Fourth Division, after Moscow failed to pay the salaries of the members for a full six months.

“موسكو تقرأ إنتفاضة السويداء..من لبنان

(Moscow reads the Suweida uprising… from Lebanon),” al-Modon (Lebanese news website), 5 September 2023.

Although more than two weeks have passed since the Suweida uprising, the Kremlin remains silent about it. 

What is relatively new this time in accusing the West of being behind the Suweida uprising is the claim of an American plan to destabilize the region by controlling the network of financial flows linked to the crisis in the Lebanese banking system…

On the first of this month, the Topwar website, which is linked to the Russian Ministry of Defense, published a text regarding the Suwayda uprising entitled “The Syrian Protests and the US Strategy in Lebanon”…


[i] The Druze are an esoteric, monotheistic ethnoreligious group that constitute 3 percent of Syria’s population, concentrated in Suweida Province. There are also Druze communities on the Syria-Israel border and in Lebanon. Unlike neighboring Sunni-majority Daraa Province—the heartland of Syria’s rebellion—the Druze-majority province of Suweida carved out an effective position of neutrality in Syria’s civil war. By staking out a neutral position, the Druze effectively became “strategic bedfellows” of the Assad regime. See: Fabrice Balanche. “The Druze and Assad: Strategic Bedfellows,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 20 October 2016.

[ii] See for instance: “Syrian government releases detainees with Russian mediation in Syria’s Suwayda,” North Press Agency, 11 July 2020.

[iii] For more see: Lucas Winter. ”Growing Iranian Influence Near the Border with Israel in Southwest Syria,” OE Watch, March 2021.

[iv] Key Druze leaders refused to meet with the powerless Russian delegation, which consisted of military police. See: Sources: Eight Demands to Russian Delegation in Suweida,” (Syrian opposition news website) via The Syrian Observer (Syrian media aggregator), 9 August 2022. and

السويداء: حركة رجال الكرامة ترفض استقبال وفد روسي

“Suweida: Men of Dignity refuses to meet Russian delegation,” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 10 August 2022.

Image Information:

Image: A Druze man photographed in Suweida Syria, 2008.
Source: CharlesFred, Flickr,
Attribution: CC 2.0

“Axis” of Military Regimes Strengthens in West Africa With Support From Russia

“Niger junta leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani announced that his country will allow the military governments of Mali and Burkina Faso to send their soldiers into Niger to defend against an attack.”

A new pro-Russia geopolitical bloc is gaining steam in West Africa. Composed of francophone military regimes in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, the new bloc is showing itself to be a cohesive and problematic new alliance in regional military, security, and political affairs with assistance from Russia and the Wagner Group. The first excerpted article, from the French state-sponsored RFI reposted on the pan-African news aggregator,includes the first known reference to a so-called “Mali-Russia-Niger Axis.”. To that “Axis,” one should also add Burkina Faso, a close ally of Mali, the Nigerien junta, and Russia. Mali and Russia formed the basis of this “Axis” after its two coups in 2020 and 2021, and Burkina Faso’s own 2022 coup led it to quickly fall in with the other two states.[i] Niger’s own military-led overthrow led its new government to  the newest member of the “Axis.” The four countries increasingly support one another. According to the RFI article, Russia recently vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have kept UN observers in Mali. This veto was both a boon for Mali, which had demanded the end of the UN’s peacekeeping mission, and for Russia, which the UN had, in veiled language, accused of widespread human rights abuses in Mali. The second article from states that the Nigerien junta recently signed a pact with Mali and Burkina Faso to allow their troops to enter Niger to defend it against an external attack. This pact was made in reference to discussions of a potential Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) military intervention into Niger to oust that country’s leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani.[ii] Regarding Russian involvement, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger all have varying degrees of engagement with the Wagner Group.[iii] Moreover, in all three countries, Russian misinformation and disinformation campaigns, particularly decrying French presence, have been rampant. In return, Mali has been a supporter of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Increasingly, West Africa is being split into two camps. On one side is the described pro-Russia axis, while on the other side are the France-friendly countries like Senegal,[iv] Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, and Nigeria, the latter of which chairs ECOWAS.


Melissa Chemam, “West Africa: Niger’s Junta Finds Support in Mali and Russia, But France Stands Firm,” (pan-African news aggregator), 11 September 2023.

The leaders of Russia and Mali have agreed the political crisis in Niger should be resolved using diplomacy and not force. Meanwhile, France has rejected accusations by Niger’s coup leaders that it’s planning a military intervention.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin and interim Malian leader Assimi Goita had talked by telephone at Bamako’s request.

The comment came a day after Niger’s military rulers accused former colonial power France of assembling troops, war materials and equipment in several neighboring West African countries with a view to “military intervention” in the Sahel state.

A Mali-Russia-Niger axis

During his telephone exchange with Putin, Goita thanked Russia for vetoing an attempt by the UN Security Council to keep a team of UN experts in Mali.

The experts had accused “foreign forces”, a veiled reference to the Russian mercenary group Wagner, of involvement in widespread abuses in Mali.

Mali shares a long border with Niger, and, immediately after the coup, its junta voiced support for Niger’s new military rulers.

It has on several occasions stated its opposition to a military intervention there.

Mali has shifted sharply to Russia since back-to-back coups in 2020 and 2021, becoming one of the few nations to back Moscow at the United Nations over its invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin added that Putin and Goita also discussed cooperation between Russia and Mail on economic and commercial issues, and on “anti-terror” operations.

Ecowas leaders have threatened to intervene militarily in Niger, the fourth West African nation since 2020 to suffer a coup after Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.

“Niger: Junta Leader Signs Order to Allow Help from Burkina Faso, Mali Military,” (pan-African news aggregator), 25 August 2023.

Niger junta leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani announced that his country will allow the military governments of Mali and Burkina Faso to send their soldiers into Niger to defend against an attack.

Tchiani had been in a meeting with the foreign ministers of Burkina Faso, Olivia Rouamba, and Mali, Abdoulaye Diop, visited Gen Tchiani in Niamey before signing the order.West African regional bloc Ecowas was threatening to use force if President Mohamed Bassoum is not reinstated, but the regional West African bloc is focusing on diplomacy for now.


[i] For more reading on the relationships between these four countries, see: Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso Claims Disguised Jihadists, Not Military, Responsible for Civilian Killings,” OE Watch 06-2023.; Jason Warner, “Vast Majority of Malians Express Confidence in Russia’s Ability To Address Jihadist Violence,” OE Watch, 06-2023.; Jason Warner, “Russia-Supported Military Rulers in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea Continue To Deepen Ties,” OE Watch, 04-2023.; Jason Warner, “Mali Defends Reliance on Russian Counterterrorism Assistance,” OE Watch, 03-2023.; Jason Warner, “West African States Ruled by Military Leaders Seek To Circumvent Future Sanctions” OE Watch, 03-2023.

[ii] For more on the perspectives of the potential ECOWAS intervention, see: Jason Warner, “West African States Split on Potential ECOWAS Intervention in Niger,” OE Watch 08-2023.

[iii] Mali has a substantial Wagner presence in the country. In Burkina Faso, the government has denied the official presence of Wagner, though many observers, including Ghana’s president, have claimed that the private military company does indeed operate there. In the case of Niger, reports have emerged that the Tichani has requested Wagner’s presence, though it is yet unconfirmed if this call has been answered. For more on Burkina Faso’s relationship with Wagner and Russia, see: Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso Fights Terrorism With Recruits and Russia,” OE Watch, 02-2023.

[iv] Even within Senegal, members of the political commentariat have decried Senegal’s potential participation in a theoretical ECOWAS intervention into Niger. For instance, an op-ed signed by more than one hundred Senegalese in the news outlet Sud Quotidien called participation in such an intervention “a neocolonial military adventure.”  See: “Afrique de l’Ouest: L’aventure militarie neocoloniale du President Macky Sall (West Africa: The neocolonial military adventure of President Macky Sall),” Sud Quotidien (Senegal-based news outlet), 6 September 2023.

Kazakhstan Draws on Lessons From War in Ukraine

Russian and Kazakh military to discuss security in Central Asia

“Units of special operations forces and the National Guard liberated the Kapchagai hydroelectric power station, which was captured by a mock enemy.”

Kazakhstan has always been concerned that its northern regions could be annexed by Russia.[i] As a result, Kazakhstan’s armed forces carried out an air defense exercise in February 2023 and a command-staff exercise in early September 2023 that appeared to draw on lessons from the war in Ukraine, even if it was not explicitly stated.[ii] According to the accompanying excerpted article from the Kazakhstan-based Russian-language online newspaper Informburo, the command-staff exercise, Batyl Toytarys – 2023 (Brave Resistance – 2023) involved brigade tactical groups, air support, and special forces in scenarios that included defending against a river crossing and recapturing a hydroelectric power station from an enemy force. The article notes that the exercise took place in four different regions in the country, two of which are near the Kazakhstan-Russia border. It also notes that Kazakhstan’s Navy took part in the exercise by securing facilities in the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstani officials did not release any further information on the conditional enemy for the exercise, but it appears to be working through a scenario of dealing with a conventional enemy who would target multiple regions of the country on a large scale.


Aygerim Ummat, “Токаеву показали, как проходят военные учения ‘Батыл тойтарыс – 2023’ (Tokayev was shown how the armed forces carried out the exercise ‘Batyl toytarys – 2023’),” Informburo (Russian-language online newspaper in Kazakhstan), 5 September 2023.

…the Head of State Kassym-Jomart Tokayev visited the strategic command and staff military exercises “Batyl Toytarys – 2023″…

Brigade tactical groups, with the support of aviation, as well as in cooperation with units of ground forces and special operations forces, worked out tactical actions to capture the designated enemy line on the opposite bank while overcoming a water barrier.

Units of special operations forces and the National Guard liberated the Kapchagai hydroelectric power station, which was captured by a mock enemy. The units of the Ministry of Emergency Situations worked to alleviate the consequences of the man-made disaster and worked out measures to provide humanitarian assistance to the population.

According to a single concept and plan, which was developed by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan, a strategic regrouping of troops was carried out in the areas where the exercises will be held…the Navy, with the support of aviation and special operations forces, ensured the security of economic facilities in the Caspian Sea. The corresponding joint combat training tasks were carried out at the training grounds of Almaty, Karaganda, North Kazakhstan, and Abay regions.


[i] For more information on Kazakhstan’s exercise and the cancelled parade, see: Matthew Stein “Kazakhstan Draws Lessons From the Russia-Ukraine War,” OE Watch 03-2023.

[ii] Kazakhstani public perceptions of Russia are trending negative. A recent public survey revealed that 30 percent of the Kazakhstani population had lost its positive perception of Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, while half of those questioned did not change their perception of Russia. Conversely, 5 percent of those surveyed had a better perception of Russia. For more detail see: “Треть казахстанцев стала хуже относиться к России после начала ее вторжения в Украину (A third of Kazakhstanis have a worse attitude toward Russia after the start of its invasion of Ukraine),” Vlast, 18 May 2023.

Image Information:

Image: Russian and Kazakh military to discuss security in Central Asia
Attribution: CCA 4.0

Maduro, With Venezuelan Election Looming, Heads to China for Support

Former President Hugo Chávez receives a Chinese delegation. No Latin American leader traveled more to Beijing than Hugo Chávez during his presidency.

“China is Venezuela’s largest creditor…The restructuring of this enormous amount of money has been one of the headaches in relations between both countries.”

Upcoming elections and increasing pressure at home drove Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro to head to China in September 2023 to reignite relations. In the past, China was Venezuela’s greatest benefactor. During the years of President Hugo Chávez (1998-2013), Venezuela received over $60 billion in loans through a combination of sovereign lending, China’s policy banks, and large development projects.[i] However,  during Nicolás Maduro’s government (2013-present), Venezuela’s economy fell precipitously through a combination of mismanagement and corruption, causing China to withdraw much of its support in 2015 and 2016. Ever since, Maduro has struggled to return to China’s good graces and convince the Chinese Communist Party that he can be a good steward of Venezuela’s economy. While in China, Spanish daily El País reports Maduro had an agenda aimed at finding solutions to Venezuela’s grave economic crisis and rebuilding robust bilateral ties.

Maduro’s efforts were in vain. As one of Mexico’s main daily newspapers La Jornada states, the two partners signed dozens of agreements, but none of them involved the depth of investment Venezuela received during the Chávez years. Maduro’s trip failed to yield the kind of agreement he needed to reset his economy. The agreements reveal that China no longer sees Venezuela as its principal partner in Latin America to challenge the United States geopolitically. To assuage Maduro, China and Venezuela upgraded their bilateral ties to an “all weather relationship.” While this represents an upgrade in the hierarchy of China’s foreign relations, Maduro’s trip revealed the fundamental distrust that persists in Beijing about its ability to support Caracas monetarily and get a return on its investment.[ii] Lack of Chinese financial support and a presidential election likely upcoming in 2024 suggest Maduro will have to rely on greater repression to hold onto power. Additionally, Maduro’s largely empty-handed return from China may be seen by Russia as an opening to deepen their strategic ties to Venezuala, given Moscow’s desire to use Latin America as a counterpoint to U.S. policy in Europe, and specifically, support for Ukraine.[iii]


“Nicolás Maduro visita China para tratar de paliar la crisis económica de Venezuela (Nicolás Maduro visits China to try to alleviate the economic crisis in Venezuela),” El País (Spanish daily with excellent regional coverage of Latin America), 12 September 2023.

Maduro arrived with an eminently economic agenda and the intention of finding solutions to the crisis that is shaking the country… The intention is to strengthen ties that have been diluted in recent years and realign interests in an international theater polarized by the tense relationship between the United States and Beijing… China is Venezuela’s largest creditor, the Latin American country that has the largest debt with Beijing: since 2007, it has received about 60 billion dollars in Chinese state loans… The restructuring of this enormous amount of money has been one of the headaches in relations between both countries and was the driver behind Maduro’s last visit to Beijing in 2018.

“Relación China-Venezuela será elevada a su máximo nivel: Xi Jinping (China-Venezuela relationship will be raised to its highest level: Xi Jinping),” La Jornada (one of Mexico’s daily newspapers), 13 September 2023.  Chinese President Xi Jinping announced this Wednesday in a meeting with his counterpart Nicolás Maduro in Beijing the strengthening of relations with Venezuela, which will be raised to their highest level… “All weather relations” are the highest level of Chinese diplomatic relations. Only a handful of countries (Pakistan, Russia, Belarus) have this status.


[i] For more information about China’s role in supporting Hugo Chávez’s government, see: Stephen B. Kaplan and Michael A. Penfold, “China-Venezuela Economic Relations: Hedging Venezuelan Bets with Chinese Characteristics,” Wilson Center for International Scholars.

[ii] For additional analysis on the bind China finds itself in with Venezuela—too important to cut relations, yet too untrustworthy to deepen them—see: “The Future of Sino-Venezuelan Relationship: Make or Break?,” Harvard International Review, December 22, 2021.

[iii] For more information on how Russia views its relations with Latin America as a counterpoint to U.S. policy in Europe, see: Ryan C. Berg, “What Does Russia’s War in Ukraine Mean for Latin America and the Caribbean?,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 1, 2022.

Image Information:

Image: Former President Hugo Chávez receives a Chinese delegation. No Latin American leader traveled more to Beijing than Hugo Chávez during his presidency.
Source: https ://
Attribution: Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Niger Claims France and Other West African States Planning Military Intervention

The new military junta of Niger has demanded the departure of French troops stationed in the country. It has also accused Paris of colluding with other West African states to launch a military intervention into the country (Niger in green).

With each coup d’état, the process is the same: discussions take place with the juntas in power, the French are asked to pack up and Paris generally complies after a deaf dialogue.”

Soon after seizing power, the military junta of GEN Tchiani in Niger made it clear that it wanted the French military out of the country. As anti-French protests proliferated in the capital, Niamey,[i] the junta quickly annulled former security cooperation agreements with France. The playbook was familiar, as the first accompanying article from Le Journal de l’Afrique articulates: “With each [West African] coup d’état, the process is the same: discussions take place with the juntas in power, the French are asked to pack up, and Paris generally complies after a deaf dialogue.” However, given a general reluctance for obeisance to the junta, France did not move its approximately 1500 troops immediately but stated that it would do so “once certain conditions are met.” Accordingly, French troops appear to have remained on bases in Niger or repositioned to Chad or Benin.

Tchiani’s junta has accused France of planning a military intervention in collusion with Niger’s neighbors as a result of this delay, combined with the repositioning of these French troops in other countries.[ii] According to the second article from the pan-African news aggregator, the Nigerien junta has claimed that France is repositioning troops in Senegal, Benin, and Côte d’Ivoire for a military intervention in Niger. Acting on this fear, as per the third article from TogoBreakingNews, the Nigerien junta broke off military relations with Benin, accusing it of harboring “military personnel, mercenaries, and material of war,” under the auspices of “an aggression sought by France, with members of ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], against Niger.” This follows a broader pattern of the vilification of France by francophone governments around the continent.[iii] Paris has rejected the claims of collusion. The most recent discord between Niger and France is the latest in an increasingly predictable pattern. France’s status in West Africa is arguably the worst it has been in years as francophone West African militaries conduct putsches, consolidate power, accuse France of malfeasance then demand its departure, and often, subsequently invite in Russia and the Wagner Group.


Ben Eddine, “Les troupes françaises, sans base militaire fixe? (French troops, without a permanent base?),” Le Journal de l’Afrique (pan-African news aggregator), 8 September 2023.

It has become a habit for the French ministries of the Armed Forces and of Defence. With each coup d’état, the process is the same: discussions take place with the juntas in power, the French are asked to pack up and Paris generally complies after a deaf dialogue. After Mali, Niger. It’s been over a month since Niamey and Paris clash over military presence in Niger. The military agreements linking the two countries have been denounced by the junta in power in Niger. 

Because Paris would be in the process of redeploying part of its 1 soldiers stationed there in another African country. France may have taken the time to contest Niger’s demands, so it finally gave in. While French soldiers no longer dare leave their respective bases and French aircraft have not taken off for several weeks, France affirms that it will withdraw “certain military elements” as soon as security conditions are met.

Bamba Mousa, “Niger: Situation de crise – La France dément préparer une intervention militaire (Niger: crisis situation – France denies preparing a military intervention),” (pan-African news aggregator), 11 September 2023.

Tensions between Paris and Niamey gave rise to a new skirmish last weekend. While continuing to refuse a rapid withdrawal of its troops from Niger, France denied the accusations made on Saturday September 9 by the junta, which accuses it of “deploying its forces in several countries of the Economic Community of African States of the West as part of preparations for an aggression against Niger, which it is considering in collaboration with this community organization.”

After the coup d’état of July 26, ECOWAS brandished the threat of military intervention as a last resort in the event of failure of negotiations, in order to restore constitutional order, to release the overthrown president Mohamed Bazoum and to restore its functions. A decision supported by France, which has around 1,500 soldiers in Niger. In a statement a few days ago, Niamey accused France to position troops and military equipment in Benin, Ivory Coast and Senegal, in preparation for an attack on Niger.

Didier Assogba, “Niger: Le Bénin accusé d’abriter des mercenaires (Niger: Benin accused of harboring mercenaries),”, 13 September 2023.

The military in power announced the denunciation of the military agreement of July 11, 2022 with Benin.For the new Nigerien authorities, this decision is justified by the authorization granted by the Beninese government for the stationing in the country of “soldiers, mercenaries and war materials” in the perspective of “an aggression desired by France, in collaboration with certain ECOWAS countries against Niger.”


[i] For more information on the anti-French sentiments in the African security sphere, see: Jason Warner, “Anti-French Sentiment Undergirds Overthrow of Nigerien Government,” OE Watch 08-2023.;  Jason Warner, “French Researchers Respond to Wave of Anti-French Sentiment in Africa,” OE Watch 07-2023.; Matthew Kirwin, Lassane Ouedraogo, and Jason Warner, “Fake News in the Sahel: ‘Afrancaux News,’ French Counterterrorism, and the Logics of User-Generated Media,” African Studies Review, 65 (4): December 2022, 911 – 938.

[ii] The ECOWAS bloc have considered their own military intervention into Niger because of the undemocratic transfer of power in Niger. For more on perspectives of the potential ECOWAS intervention, see: Jason Warner, “West African States Split on Potential Intervention in Niger,” OE Watch 08-2023.

[iii] For examples of claims of French malfeasance by governments in Africa, see: Jason Warner, “CAR Joins Mali in Accusing France of Funding Terrorists,” OE Watch, 04-2023.; Jason Warner, “Mali Claims France Funded Terrorists; France Denies,” OE Watch, 10-2022.;

Image Information:

Image: The new military junta of Niger has demanded the departure of French troops stationed in the country. It has also accused Paris of colluding with other West African states to launch a military intervention into the country (Niger in green).
Attribution: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As Sahelian Jihadists Expand South, Côte d’Ivoire Stands as Model of Success

While much of the rest of the Sahel has become engulfed in jihadist violence, Côte d’Ivoire, highlighted here, has had surprising success at avoiding the same violence.

“The goal is to reverse perceptions among border communities that the state has abandoned them. Doing so will reduce the risk that they are exploited by insurgents.”

For the past several years, a primary concern in the Sahelian region of West Africa has been the ability of groups associated with the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda to push southward as they march to the littoral of the Bight of Benin.[i] While Mali and Burkina Faso continue to be the epicenters of jihadist activity, even historically immune countries like Togo, Benin, and Ghana have seen their northern regions, which border Mali and Burkina Faso, experience violence from these groups.[ii] However, as the accompanying article from the pan-African think tank The Institute for Security Studies articulates, Cote d’Ivoire, which would reasonably experience similar threats, seems to have figured out how to protect itself from this southern push. According to the authors, the country’s success is due to its commitment to strategies of security and development. On the security side, the article notes that its “military and security interventions played a notable role in achieving the prevailing calm.” These included several standard practices: the creation of a nationwide counterterrorism strategy; the addition of new weapons and armored vehicles; and the creation of a new counterterrorism center. Yet from the authors’ perspectives, the real success story has been Côte d’Ivoire’s citizen-centric development efforts, targeting populations living in its rural north, who are most susceptible to violence and radicalization. To discourage their joining the insurgents, the government’s social program seeks to “improve civilians’ living conditions” to “reverse the perception among border communities that the state has abandoned them” so as to “reduce the risk that they are exploited by insurgents.” The development program has focused on improving infrastructure, health, youth employment, and social safety allowances. A recent report by the global think tank International Crisis Group draws similar conclusions,[iii] further underscoring the broader perception of Côte d’Ivoire’s efficacy on this front. As the United States and partner countries seek to stem the tide of jihadist violence, Côte d’Ivoire’s approach might bear attention as a model that could be replicated elsewhere in the region.


William Assanvo, “Has Côte d’Ivoire found the solution to violent extremism?,” Institute for Security Studies (centrist pan-African security studies think tank), 25 July 2023.

No significant terror attacks have been reported in northern Côte d’Ivoire over the past two years, suggesting that its approach to addressing the problem has been effective. With many other states in West Africa still facing a growing threat, what is the country doing right?

Côte d’Ivoire’s border area with Burkina Faso was under substantial pressure from violent extremist groups between 2020 and 2021. Almost 20 attacks and incidents attributed to these groups were recorded in that period. These included attacks against positions and convoys of the defence and security forces, incursions into Ivorian territory, propaganda sermons, threats and intimidation of civilians.

In response, the government focused first on military and security operations, and then supplemented these with a social programme…

Following the Grand-Bassam attack, efforts to strengthen the security apparatus continued, including developing a national counter-terrorism strategy in 2018.

From 2019, the growing presence of extremists in Burkina Faso’s forests along the border with Côte d’Ivoire led to increased vigilance and a stronger military presence in the north. In May 2020, a joint military operation was conducted with Burkina Faso.

This saw the creation in July 2020 of an operational zone in the north, the set-up of military camps in some border localities, and significant investments in increasing the defence and security forces’ functional capacity. This included human resources, air assets, armoured transport vehicles and surveillance equipment.

A counter-terrorism intelligence centre, Centre de renseignement opérationnel antiterroriste, was created in August 2021 to improve intelligence gathering. Better regional cooperation between countries, particularly within the framework of the Accra Initiative in which Côte d’Ivoire participates, was another important part of the response.

The military and security interventions played a notable role in achieving the prevailing calm. Land, air and intelligence operations have contributed to reducing armed groups’ ability to carry out incursions, move around, and operate within Ivorian territory. And reinforcing the presence of soldiers along the border has reassured civilians. It is also possible that the lull is due to the extremists withdrawing across the border to continue their violence there or adopt a low profile.

While this period of calm prevailed, the social component of the Ivorian response to the terror threat was started. It is being implemented under the framework of the government’s second social programme (PS Gouv 2), which runs from 2022 to 2024. The programme’s first strategic axis includes addressing the fragility in the northern border areas.

The programme was announced in November 2021 and officially launched in January 2022. It aims to improve civilians’ living conditions by enhancing infrastructure and access to basic social services. The goal is to reverse perceptions among border communities that the state has abandoned them. Doing so will reduce the risk that they are exploited by insurgents. The programme focuses on education, health, access to electricity and drinking water, road maintenance, professional integration and youth employment, and providing social safety allowances.The Ivorian approach of combining a military, security and social response isn’t in itself innovative or fundamentally different from that used by neighbouring countries facing terrorism. Notable examples are in central Mali, the Burkina Faso region of the Sahel, and northern Togo. The difference in Côte d’Ivoire could lie in its implementation of these strategies.


[i] For more on the push of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants towards the West African coast, see: Jason Warner, “UN Warns About Islamic State Surging in Africa and Afghanistan,” OE Watch, 03-2023.; Jason Warner, “Coastal West African States Brace for Wave of Terrorism From the Sahel,” OE Watch, 10-2022.

[ii] West African states have taken various approaches to dealing with jihadist insurgents, especially on the topic of negotiations. For more, see: Jason Warner, “Sahelian Countries Divided on Negotiating With Al-Qaeda, Islamic State Militants,” OE Watch 07-2023. 

[iii] The International Crisis Group report largely agrees that the dual security and development approach of Côte d’Ivoire has been important, but also notes that the country’s broader focus on economic development; the northern region’s importance as a base of power for the ruling party; religious tolerance; and an ethnically and regionally balanced military also played their own roles. To read the International Crisis Group study on the topic, see: International Crisis Group, “Keeping Jihadists Out of Northern Cote d’Ivoire,” International Crisis Group, 23 August 2023.

Image Information:

Image: While much of the rest of the Sahel has become engulfed in jihadist violence, Côte d’Ivoire, highlighted here, has had surprising success at avoiding the same violence.
Attribution: TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0

Presidential Candidate Assassination Shows New Depths of Ecuador’s Insecurity

Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate Fernando Villavicencio.

“He [Fernando Villavicencio] structured his campaign around the fight against mafias and drug trafficking. Days ago, the candidate said that he had been threatened with death by ‘one of the bosses of the Sinaloa Cartel.’”

Over the past three years, Ecuador has experienced a tremendous spike in violence led by the activities of transnational drug trafficking organizations often operating in collaboration with local gangs,[i] which has resulted in skyrocketing homicide rates. [ii] Underscoring the extent of the violence, one of the leading candidates in Ecuador’s snap presidential elections, Fernando Villavicencio, was assassinated in early August after a campaign rally in Quito. Villavicencio polled in the top tier of candidates poised to make the runoff round, with a message focused on anti-corruption efforts. Villavicencio was a journalist who rose to prominence uncovering and denouncing corruption in the Rafael Correa government, as well as links between organized crime and members of Correa’s party. According to the excerpted article from the Spanish daily El País, in addition to denouncing corruption, Villavicencio had spoken on the campaign trail about a comprehensive security plan for the country, including cracking down on organized crime and building maximum security prisons. Days before his assassination, Villavicencio alleged he had been threatened by a member of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel with an interest in Ecuador. The allegation furthered speculation about the role of Mexico’s top criminal organizations, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, in Ecuador’s downward spiral of criminality. Infobae, an Argentine outlet with excellent regional coverage, states the Ecuadorian investigation has been unable to link Mexican cartels to the crime. Instead, the outlet reports that the investigative unit has uncovered firmer connections between those it suspects are responsible and the local gang Los Lobos and the Puerto Rican transnational crime group the Latin Kings. The development signals the difficulty of confirming the nexus between the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels and local Ecuadorian gangs. It also indicates that high-level politicians may be a new target for Ecuador’s criminal violence.


“¿Quién era Fernando Villavicencio, el candidato presidencial asesinado en Ecuador?(Who was Fernando Villavicencio, the presidential candidate assassinated in Ecuador?),” El País (Spanish daily with excellent regional coverage), 10 August 2023. 

Among Villavicencio’s proposals were building ‘a very high security prison’ to lock up the most dangerous criminals, militarizing ports to control drug trafficking, and creating an anti-mafia unit that would pursue drug traffickers with foreign support…He structured his campaign around the fight against mafias and drug trafficking. Days ago, the candidate said that he had been threatened with death by ‘one of the bosses of the Sinaloa Cartel.’

“Asesinato de Fernando Villavicencio: investigan los vínculos del sicario con bandas criminales ecuatorianas (Murder of Fernando Villavicencio: investigating the hitman’s links with Ecuadorian criminal gangs),” Infobae (an Argentine outlet with excellent regional coverage), 20 September 2023. the investigations carried out on the gunman’s mobile phone, the hitman’s links with organized crime groups in the country are being investigated…According to the report, the hitman recruited the first six detainees in the case, all of whom are Colombians from Cali…Others suspected of involvement have been linked to Los Lobos gang and the Latin Kings.


[i] For more information on Ecuador’s security challenges and the government’s attempt to stem homicides, see: Ryan C. Berg, “President Lasso Calls for ‘Plan Ecuador’ Amid Growing Security Concerns,” OE Watch, December 2021.

[ii] For more information on the genesis of Ecuador’s violent crime and its impact on local politics, see: Will Freeman, “A Surge in Crime and Violence Has Ecuador Reeling,” World Politics Review, June 14, 2023.

Image Information:

Image: Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate Fernando Villavicencio.
Attribution: Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

Iran’s Supreme Leader Accuses West of Ukraine War Conspiracy

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran, July 19, 2022.

“The Ukrainians fight and get killed so that weapons can be sold.”

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Iran initially professed neutrality; however, this official neutrality did not last long.[i] In July 2022, Putin visited Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran. Khamenei unequivocally endorsed Russia’s invasion stating, “If you [Russia] had not taken the helm, the other side would have done so and initiated a war.” In the below-excerpted speech featured on Khamenei’s website,, the Supreme Leader provided more insight into his thinking about Ukraine. Khamenei sees the Ukraine war within the context of his own worldview in which all evils originate in the West. Specifically, he embraces the belief the military-industrial complex shapes all policy in Washington, stating: “The Ukrainians fight and get killed so that [American] weapons can be sold, so that Europe is forced to buy their [American] weapons, so the arms-producing companies can produce and sell weapons and fill their pockets.” Interestingly, his embrace of Russia weakens a main pillar of the Islamic Revolution during the Cold War, which is that Iran would rely on “neither East nor West,” both of which revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini believed to be equally exploitive. Instead, the tenet holds that Iran is best served by an independent foreign policy.[ii] Additionally, Khamenei asserted that the United States seeks to steal Syrian oil. He claimed: “A government like that of the United States is stealing oil from Syria and is doing it openly in plain view of everybody.” This assertion shows his embrace of another conspiracy theory and suggests that Iran could be an impediment to any reconciliation between the Syrian regime and the predominantly Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in whose territory the United States bases a small force. AANES currently controls many of Syria’s oil fields.


“Biyanat dar Didar Mobleghin va Talab-e Hawzehha-ye ‘Ilmeah Saresar Keshvar” (Statement to a gathering of seminary students and missionaries from across the country),” (official website of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei), 12 July 2023.

Today, they are willing to push the poor, helpless nation of Ukraine forward to fill the pockets of American arms-producing companies. That is what is happening. That is the case in Ukraine. The Ukrainians fight and get killed so that weapons can be sold, so that Europe is forced to buy their weapons, so the arms-producing companies can produce and sell weapons and fill their pockets. They are the same. They want to steal Syria’s oil and they are stealing it. People imagine a thief to be an inferior, lowly person. A government like that of the United States is stealing oil from Syria and is doing it openly in plain view of everybody! They are the same, they have not changed.


[i] For an earlier discussion of Iran’s history and the development of Iran-Russia relations, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian Influence Extends to the Mediterranean,” OE Watch, September 2018.

[ii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Will Iran Pivot to the East?” OE Watch, September 2018.

Image Information:

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran, July 19, 2022.
Source : ?ts=1669631151000

Iran Promoting Medical Tourism To Generate Hard Currency

View of an Iranian medical examination room in July 2023.

“The quality of Iran’s medical education … has led to the discussion of increasing medical tourism in the country.”

Iran is facing a hard currency crunch. The excerpted article from Iranian Students’ News Agency focuses on the Iranian government’s desire to promote medical tourism to raise new hard currency.[i]. Over the past year alone, the Iranian government says the industry has netted $1 billion for the Iranian economy. On 3 July 2023, Mahdi Safari, Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Diplomacy, said the Foreign Ministry hoped to attract 6 million medical tourists to Iran annually. Health Minister Bahram Einollahi said Iran expected 240 hospitals to accept medical tourists. The lack of international accreditation for Iranian hospitals, however, puts Iran at a disadvantage in comparison to Turkey and India, its two nearest competitors in the field. Nevertheless, as the regime looks for more hard currency, it seeks to overcome such challenges. On 22 July 2023, for example, Einollahi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami gathered to discuss the industry jointly in a roundtable with parliamentarians. Advertisements by medical tourism companies promise not only visa services, but also interpreters and hotel bookings, all of which require coordination between ministries. There are also security and military aspects to the development of the medical tourism industry. First, while Iran’s foreign ministry officially issues visas, the intelligence ministry must approve visa applications. Although Iranian medical tourism companies claim that the foreign ministry will allow Americans, British, and Canadians to purchase medical tourism packages, it is unclear the extent to which Iranian security services will view this as a backdoor for Iranian adversaries to access the country. Given the long history of Iranian hostage-taking, Western tourists might become prime targets. Second, it remains unclear how the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will address the issue. Khatam al-Anbiya, the IRGC’s economic wing, controls up to 40 percent of the Iranian economy and tends to focus its energy on industries that allow it to access hard currency.[ii] While it will be difficult for the IRGC to involve itself in medical tourism, the potential growth of the sector into a multi-billion dollar income stream means it will either find a creative way or, as money often equates to power, find a way to shut down the industry to preserve its own privileged position.


“Kifiyat-e Amuzesh-e Pezeshki Iran Movajeb Tawseah-e Turizm Darmani Shodeh Ast” (The Quality of Medical Education in Iran has led to the Development of Medical Tourism),” Iranian Students’ News Agency (an ostensibly private news agency close to Iran’s security and intelligence apparatus), 8 July 2023.

The deputy minister of health for education announced the call for 3,000 staff members and said, the call will be made in several stages in different regions, each according to its need. Dr. Abulfazl Bagheri Fard, in a meeting with faculty members of Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences this morning, pointed out the increase in the number of available residency slots in this year’s exam, and the improvement in their pay, he noted, in the 13th government [led by President Ebrahim Raisi], a plan was presented to the Planning and Budget to increase the salaries of medical residents so that they would receive the same salary as general practitioners… He noted, “The quality of Iran’s medical education is both a source of pride and has led to the discussion of increasing medical tourism in the country. Training should be dynamic and up-to-date, and regulations should be revised based on conditions. For example, this topic was used to increase the number of available fellowships in 2022 based on structured interviews. He mentioned the inclusion of cardiac and thoracic surgery in the residency exam, and the ability to participate in the emergency medicine and anesthesiology residency exam without submitting a [broader] plan….The Deputy Minister of Health for education referred to the review of the regulations on the promotion of faculty members based on their performance and impact in training and strengthening the position of the university, and added that the launch of the disciplines was also decided based on the needs of the country and with the advice of the board members.


[i] While Iranian officials often blame their country’s dire financial situation on sanctions, structural problems within the Iranian economy take a greater toll. The IRGC dominates certain industries, for example, and often refuses to subject itself to basic laws and regulations. The lack of commercial law and interference by an ever-shifting array of power centers hampers foreign direct investment. For these reasons, many contracts go unfulfilled. Rampant inflation and continued subsidies for bread, electricity, and gasoline hemorrhage hard currency. The opacity of spending, especially by the IRGC, and the arbitrariness of figures published by the Central Bank increases uncertainty about Iran’s hard currency reserves at any given time.

[ii] See: Michael Rubin, “IRGC Wins Multibillion Dollar Economic Projects” OE Watch, August 2018.

Image Information:

Image: View of an Iranian medical examination room in July 2023.
Attribution: Tasnim News Agency