Niger Hits Back France with Uranium and Gold
Amid escalating anti-French rhetoric, the junta announced the suspension of uranium exports to France. The radioactive ore is impoverished Niger’s main export and has brought the country into the global spotlight over the years, most notably in 2003, when shady intelligence about a possible Iraqi purchase of 500 tonnes of Nigerien “yellowcake” uranium was part of the American case for launching the “pre-emptive” invasion of Iraq.
France, the country’s former colonial ruler, is a significant importer of Nigerien uranium used to power France’s massive civil nuclear industry. According to a statement issued by France’s Foreign Ministry on Monday, a drop in Nigerien uranium would have little impact because “our supplies are extremely diversified.”
This claim may not be entirely accurate as the former Government of Niger and the French nuclear giant Oran (formerly Areva) signed a "global partnership" agreement in May 2023 to exploit the country's uranium deposits. The deal includes the extension until 2040 of the activity of the Somair site - the only uranium mine of the group still operating in northern Niger.
A West African coalition issued an ultimatum to Niger’s putschists on Sunday, threatening military intervention if deposed President Mohamed Bazoum is not returned to power by August 6. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members suspended relations with Niger and closed their land and air borders. While ECOWAS has stood by as juntas have replaced civilian leaders in Burkina Faso and Mali in recent years, the crisis in Niger may herald a new era in regional politics.
Increasing the stakes, the Malian and Burkinabe regimes issued their joint statement on Monday, warning that an ECOWAS intervention in Niger could result in a military response from their respective countries. The Biden administration is unwilling to formally label what happened in Niger as a “coup” because doing so would result in immediate cuts to security aid that Washington provides to a country seen as a bulwark against Islamist extremist threats and encroaching Russian influence in the region.
Niger is the world’s seventh-largest uranium producer, has Africa’s highest-grade uranium ores, and is a major uranium exporter to Europe. It is unknown how the cut of the Uranium supply will affect the sanctions on Russia.