Setback to France’s African Policy
In a significant announcement on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron revealed that France would end its military presence in Niger and withdraw its ambassador from the country within the three months left in 2023. This decision comes in the wake of the removal of Niger’s president in a very popular coup .
France’s move marks a notable setback to its African policy, especially considering its recent troop withdrawals from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso following similar coups in those nations. Over the years, France had deployed thousands of troops across the region ostensibly at the request of African leaders to combat jihadist groups.
France’s Failing Resistance
Since the July military intervention in Niger, France had maintained approximately 1,500 troops in the country and had persistently resisted demands from the new leadership to recall its ambassador. French authorities argued that they did not recognise the legitimacy of the military leaders whose legitimacy has stemmed from the widespread support they appear to have from the people of Niger and other people across the world.
Tensions between France and Niger, a former French colony, had been escalating in recent weeks, with reports indicating that diplomats at the French embassy were living on military rations due to the deteriorating situation.
Macron Speaks to Bazoum
In an interview with France-2 television, President Macron disclosed that he had spoken with the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and conveyed France’s decision.
Macron stated, “France has decided to bring back its ambassador, and in the coming hours, our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France.”
He also announced the gradual withdrawal of troops, expected to be completed by the end of the year, emphasising that France’s military presence in Niger had initially been at the request of the Nigerien government. But decades-old reports show that France sends its special forces to protect uranium mines ran by a French nuclear multinational, Areva.
French Refusal to Leave Niger
The coup had already led to the suspension of military cooperation between France and Niger, with the military leaders alleging that Bazoum’s government had not done enough to counter the insurgency within the country.
The new military government had issued a 48-hour ultimatum for French Ambassador Sylvain Itte to leave the country in August. When the deadline passed without France recalling its ambassador, the new Nigerien leaders revoked his diplomatic immunity. This decision was met with diplomatic and political push back, with Western and regional African powers imposing sanctions on the new leadership.
U.N. Secretary-General under Fire
In a separate development, the military government in Niger accused U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of “obstructing” the nation’s full participation at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders in New York. This accusation was made with the assertion that Guterres had acted to appease France and its allies.
As France embarks on the process of withdrawing its troops and diplomats from Niger, the region’s security landscape and the evolving dynamics of its relationship with its former colony will continue to be closely monitored on the international stage.