In his address to the U.N. General Assembly last September, Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum set the scene. His country, impoverished and battered by the vicissitudes of climate change, was at the nexus of a security crisis that transcended its borders. To Niger's northeast, the fragile, fractured state of Libya had become a "platform for transnational organized crime," and an illicit trafficking hotbed for arms, drugs and migrants. It was, Bazoum said, a font of "structural insecurity" and Islamist militancy that proliferated throughout the Sahel - the vast, semiarid belt of Africa that sits below the Sahara Desert, with Niger at its center.
Bazoum then spoke of the "ecosystem of violence" that had metastasized to the west in Mali, where failures to reckon with growing insurgencies, including a years-long French-led peacekeeping effort, had fueled popular discontent and led to military juntas seizing power. A similar putsch followed suit in neighboring Burkina Faso. But Niger, while no stranger to unrest and insurgency, had avoided this fate, Bazoum said. He pointed to his own democratic election - the first in his nation's history since independence from France - and the peaceful transfer of power that took place in Niamey, the capital, in 2021.