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US announces aid for Sahel amid Russia expansion

March 17, 2023

Niger, one of the world's poorest nations, has resisted a recent spate of coups and inroads by Russian mercenaries seen in neighboring countries and is set to benefit from millions in US aid.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken poses for a photograph with Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum during their meeting at the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is the highest-ranking US official to have visited Niger and held talks with Nigerien President Mohamed BazoumImage: Boureima Hama/AFP/Getty Images

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday announced $150 million (€141 million) in humanitarian aid for the Sahel region, including democratic Niger. Blinken is the highest-ranking US official to visit the former French colony.

"Niger is a young democracy in a challenging part of the world," Blinken told a news conference in the capital, Niamey. "But it remains true to the values we share. Niger has been quick to defend the democratic values under threat in neighboring countries." 

Both France and the US maintain troops in Niger to battle insurgencies in the region. 

Blinken's comments come at a time when Russia has been making inroads in the region. Mali and Burkina Faso have gone through two military coups each since 2020, making the region increasingly volatile. Both neighbors have expelled French troops from their countries and enlisted Russian military assistance amid the violence wreaked by Islamic extremists. Niger, however, has been successful in resisting a recent spate of military coups and Russian mercenaries destabilizing its neighbors. 

What is Russia doing in the Sahel?

Association with the Russian mercenary group Wagner would not bode well for the two countries, Blinken said at a joint news conference with Niger's Foreign Affairs Minister Hassoumi Massoudou. 

"It's not just that we know this is going to end badly — we've already seen it," Blinken said, reiterating that the Russian mercenary outfit has not led to the desired results in other regions where it has operated. "We've seen countries find themselves weaker, poorer, more insecure, less independent as a result of the association with Wagner."

Niger's top diplomat added that Wagner's presence was often seen in failed states.

"Our hope is that it does not go down this trajectory towards this organisation which we consider criminal and mercenary," Massoudou said. "We see that Wagner is only present in failed or failing states," he said.

The Niger foreign affairs minister went on to condemn Russia's war in Ukraine — something most African diplomats have refrained from.

mk/sms (AFP, AP)