On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged $150 million in direct assistance to Africa’s Sahel region during a visit to Niger. The move is intended to bolster ties with a nation that has managed to avoid the spate of military coups and Russian mercenaries destabilizing its neighbors.
Blinken commended Niger for its “resilience,” “democracy,” and “cooperation” in the region, warning that the proliferation of Russian mercenaries would not benefit any of the countries involved. He noted that countries that have employed the shadowy Wagner Group have found themselves “weaker, poorer, more insecure, [and] less independent.”
The Sahel, located just below the Sahara Desert in Africa, is in the grip of Islamic extremism. Niger’s borders meet with those of both Mali and Burkina Faso, two countries that have experienced two military coups each since 2020. In Mali, anti-French sentiment is running high and people have waved Russian flags in a show of support for the junta government. France has responded by relocating its troops to Niger and estimates suggest that over a thousand Wagner mercenaries are operating in Mali. Wagner is accused of human rights violations and Burkina Faso denies hiring them, although Russian instructors will be conducting military training.
Blinken’s visit to Niger follows a two-day stop in Ethiopia.