Stock - Niger
Behind the recent conflicts lie the contours of a global tussle for future economic supremacy. Image Credit: Reuters

The world is being swept up in multiple wars, conflicts and shifts in geopolitical alliances – but most of these conceal the true economic aspects that are embedded in them. What gets spoken about in the media are the surface geopolitical aspects of these conflicts, but again overlooking the true essence that set them off.

For example, two high-profile events have captured major global attention, the first being the coup in Niger, an ostensibly impoverished country that does not usually capture international headlines. The second one is the growing interest in the Arctic Ocean, and the ongoing tussle there, which in turn is gaining an economic character and becoming increasingly important due to climate change.

Indeed, Niger and Africa in general have been experiencing significant contradictions between their rich resources, especially minerals and natural and agricultural resources, and their often low living standards and prevalence of poverty.

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Such contradictions have been going on for hundreds of years. Even though Niger possesses plentiful minerals, especially uranium and gold, it is considered one of the poorest countries even with foreign companies acquiring the rights for the means of production.

Niger rewrites status quo

Due to global demand for these minerals, especially among the major nations, it has led to internal conflicts in Africa. The warring parties rely on the support of different countries, especially those increasingly reliant on African minerals.

France relies on as much as 35 per cent of uranium imported from Niger to operate its nuclear reactors, which meet 70 per cent of the European nation’s electricity needs. Niger is the fourth largest producer of uranium in the world.

After the recent coup, the military council decided to halt uranium and gold exports to France and the US and announced that it would work to protect Niger’s natural resources and obtain fair prices. The council seeks support from China and Russia.

This is with the knowledge that China is the largest investor in African economies, especially in mineral production and building infrastructure that provides crucial logistical requirements.

This has provided African countries with options previously unavailable, enabling them to achieve numerous gains and obtain greater revenues from exports. It also allowed better conditions to exploit their natural resources due to the competition among superpowers, who are increasingly in need of these very resources.

Given the tech advances in various fields, including the development of alternative energy sources, there growing demand for certain minerals such as lithium, uranium, and copper.

Arctic adventures

As for the Arctic, its frozen passages were previously limited mainly to Russia, which had developed icebreakers since the Soviet era. Russia now possesses 13 of them, compared to only one for the US. Meanwhile, China exchanges electronic information about the region with Russia for commercial reasons.

The melting of ice has led to an increased commercial significance of the Arctic, as it opens up the possibility for regular ships to navigate through the waterways as the ice melts. These waterways are expected to become major trade routes between Asia, Europe, and the Americas, which will undoubtedly impact older ones, reduce transportation costs, and shorten distances.

This means that seizing control of these new passages will offer countries many a gain and influence, and the extent of these will depend on each country’s ability to establish the necessary infrastructure to develop new ports, roads, and logistics services.

Advantage Russia

Russia, along with some Scandinavian countries, holds advantages due to its already extensive presence in the Arctic, which also puts it in a favourable position to reap future benefits.

Apart from the fundamental changes in international trade routes and the commercial significance of that, the Arctic is rich in vast natural resources, including oil and gas. The big economies are competing to take control over as much territory as possible which leads to increased geopolitical competition in the region.

With all such conflicts, it is essential to examine the true intentions related to the economy, trade routes and natural resources.