Turkey has quietly initiated policy actions to further its interests and address the power vacuum in Niger against the backdrop of a military coup that has intensified anti-Western sentiment within the country, compounded by economic and financial hardship.
The most significant sign of Turkey’s implicit support for Niger’s military junta came directly from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who made remarks after Friday prayer on August 4. Erdogan stated, “We are striving to sustain our positive relations with them,” praising the decision of the military rulers to cease uranium and gold exports to France.
Criticizing France for what he characterized as the oppression of African people over the years, Erdogan said Niger’s halting of exports was a response to the oppressive practices carried out by France. These practices, he noted, were not limited to Niger but also extended to Algeria, Rwanda and Mali.
In reference to grain exports to Africa from Ukraine and Russia through the Black Sea, Erdogan also underscored that Turkey’s stance aligns closely with that of Russia, meaning that both countries have similar grievances against Europe for getting the bulk of Ukraine’s grain exports at the expense of poor countries.
The second sign regarding Turkey’s perspective on developments in Niger emerged through a statement released by the National Security Council (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu, MGK). This body, often referred to as the shadow government in Turkey, plays a central role in shaping foreign and security policy. The statement was crafted during a session led by President Erdogan and attended by leaders from the military, intelligence and government.
The statement that followed the meeting not only refrained from condemning or criticizing the coup but also subtly suggested disapproval of Western nations and the anti-coup stance taken by regional African countries. The statement conveyed that “the resolution of the continent’s issues is best sought by those who belong to the continent.”
The MGK statement also notably refrained from characterizing the military takeover as a coup, in contrast to the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement issued on July 27, which did use the term “coup” but stopped short of explicitly condemning or criticizing the coup leaders. Given that the MGK statement is likely more indicative of the genuine perspectives within Turkey’s military and political leadership, the foreign ministry’s statement could be perceived as a more diplomatic gesture aimed at appeasing external audiences.
Consistent with the government’s stance, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency published reports and analyses highlighting Turkey’s growing engagement in Africa, which contributed to the escalation of anti-Western sentiment in the region.
In an August 4 article, the news agency emphasized that President Erdogan’s statements, along with the efforts of government bodies such as the Islamist Maarif Foundation — a conduit for exporting political Islam overseas — and the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) — an organization collaborating with Turkish intelligence under the guise of development assistance — have collectively played a role in fostering heightened anti-imperialist and anti-colonial sentiment in West Africa.
Niger’s military leaders seem to have recognized and valued Turkey’s implied backing for their efforts to retain control amid increasing pressure from Western nations and a coalition of regional countries. Despite the closure of Niger’s airspace on August 4, due to concerns about potential military intervention by the West African regional bloc, a Turkish Airlines’ Airbus A330-200 successfully made a roundtrip flight between Istanbul and Niamey on August 8, according to data from the air traffic monitoring platform FlightRadar24.
Current data available as of August 12 indicated that upcoming flights to Niger are still marked as scheduled rather than cancelled.
The junta’s choice to close the airspace was a response to the deadline set by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the reinstatement of civilian governance led by the ousted president Bazoum. ECOWAS has been preparing a potential military intervention strategy in the event that the junta fails to meet the specified conditions.
On August 6 the junta orchestrated a gathering of pro-coup supporters in the capital city of Niamey to showcase its perceived popular support. During the demonstration, attendees displayed a Turkish flag as a symbol of gratitude for the stance taken by the Erdogan government regarding the unfolding events in Niger.
On August 10 an unverified report was released by Turkish opposition television station Halk TV suggesting that Turkey’s intelligence agency, MIT, and Selçuk Bayraktar, who is both the son-in-law of President Erdogan and the manufacturer of armed drones, might have played a role in the military coup in Niger. However, the report did not furnish specific information regarding the manner in which Turkey allegedly contributed to the removal of Niger’s first democratically elected president from office.
In November 2021 Nordic Monitor confirmed Turkey’s spying operations in Niamey. Secret documents originating from the Turkish Embassy in the West African capital were disclosed, revealing that Turkish intelligence operatives utilized the embassy premises to gather intelligence on critics of the Erdogan government.
The documents provided insight into the fact that the Turkish Embassy gathered information on Turkish citizens believed to be affiliated with the Gülen movement, a group critical of President Erdogan, and that Turkish educators, representatives of local associations and businessmen and their family members living in the country had been profiled by Turkish spies.
Numerous Turkish agencies are operational in Niger, including the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation (Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı, TDV), a foundation associated with the government that possesses substantial assets and an annual budget surpassing a billion Turkish lira. The primary objective of the TDV is to propagate the political Islamist ideology of the Erdogan government beyond Turkey’s borders.
The Maarif Foundation, an institution financed by the Turkish government, operates 10 schools in Niger. Touted as a flagship initiative of Turkey’s Islamist president, the foundation functions as an extension of his administration, offering religious educational services as part of a broader proselytizing effort. Officially established by law in 2014, the foundation’s leadership has been populated by individuals with known hard-core Islamist affiliations and inclinations towards jihadist viewpoints.
A Turkish jihadist charity group that runs global logistical networks for both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is closely involved with Maarif schools in Niger. The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH) built a mosque on a school campus in July 2022. The IHH was the subject of an investigation into al-Qaeda in 2014 in Turkey, but Erdogan helped save the IHH from criminal charges. The outfit works closely with Turkish intelligence.
Furthermore, in the past few years, Turkey has entered into several bilateral agreements with Niger to collaborate on various fronts, including military training, defense industry partnerships, the advancement of hydrocarbons and the energy and mining sectors. Ankara has committed to providing Niger with advanced military technology, including the sale of armed drones.
Niger is not the sole West African nation where Turkey has expressed an interest in counteracting Western influence, particularly that of France and the US. Nordic Monitor previously published an article revealing extensive ties between the Erdogan government and the rulers of Mali, who were sanctioned by the US Treasury over what was described as malicious activities by the Russian mercenary group Wagner in the West African country.
Text of the defense industry cooperation agreement between Turkey and Niger:Turkey_Niger_defense_cooperation_agreement
The growing ties between Turkey and Mali’s military rulers have been cultivated in recent years through military aid, training, commerce and investment schemes, all of which are part of the Erdogan’s Islamist government’s campaign to curb Western influence in Africa, an objective also pursued aggressively by Russia and China.
Indeed, the coup in Niger seems to have offered the Erdogan government fresh opportunities to enhance its influence and potentially facilitate policy shifts that align with Ankara’s preferences.
However, Turkey’s strategy comes at the expense of potentially further straining relations with the US and Europe, both of which are crucial for President Erdoğan’s efforts to repair ties with the West and garner support for Turkey’s struggling economy.