The French ambassador to Niger left Niamey, the capital of Niger, two months after the coup d’état that left President Mohamed Bazoum out of power. The military junta had ordered the expulsion of the diplomat, a request that Paris rejected on at least two occasions. This September 27, Emmanuel Macron confirmed the departure of Sylvain Itté from Nigerien soil in the midst of tensions with the former French colony that seem far from settled.
Relations between France and Niger, mediated by the colonial past and the military presence to help fight Islamist insurgents, have broken down since the military seized power in Niamey on July 26 and overthrew democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum. Since the coup became known, Paris adopted a position of rejection and asked by all means for the restitution of constitutional order.
Amid the differences, Niger’s military junta had ordered the French ambassador, Sylvain Itté, to leave the country within 48 hours at the end of August, describing the presence of France.
Finally, and after several disagreements, Macron announced on Sunday, September 24, the withdrawal of the ambassador and military troops, news celebrated by Nigeriens who support the new military government.
“France has decided to bring back its ambassador. For this reason, in the next few hours, our ambassador will return to France with several diplomats (…) we are ending our military cooperation with the de facto authorities of Niger because they no longer want to fight terrorism,” said the French president.
When Niger’s military junta issued the order to expel Itté, France ignored it, maintaining its position that the military government was “illegitimate.”
Regarding the departure of the French military, Macron assured that “they will return in an orderly manner in the coming weeks and months.”
According to information recovered by Reuters, around 1,500 French soldiers housed in military bases in Niger are those who will return to their country.
Since the military junta took power, there have been almost daily protests in Niamey against France’s presence in the country. In front of a military base, hundreds of junta supporters have spent days camping to demand the departure of the troops.
End of the “Francafrique” alliance?
Anti-French sentiment has recently grown among both the population and authorities of several African countries, especially where military rulers have taken power.
Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and now Niger are governed by the military after a series of coups d’état in the last three years, processes in which anti-French discourse has been the protagonist.
The ‘Francafrique’ (France-Africa) alliance was a geopolitical concept that reflected the influence of Paris in its former African colonies to maintain strong economic and political influence through a system of open diplomacy.
“France-Africa is over, when there are coups d’état we do not intervene,” said Macrón in a television interview broadcast on ‘TF1’ and ‘France 2’.
“We have been there because Niger asked us, Burkina Faso, Mali, to help them fight terrorism in their territories. Today those countries have been victims of coups d’état. Just today I spoke with President Bazoum, who is now detained because carried out ambitious reforms,” the French president detailed in the interview.
French military forces in Niger, a country in which France also has economic interests in uranium, are distributed in the capital, Niamey, in Ouallam, to the north, and in Ayorou, near the border with Mali.
The military junta of Mali and Burkina Faso have already expelled French forces deployed to help fight extremist groups, which in a decade have killed thousands and displaced millions in the Sahel region.
The critical relationship between France and Africa is forcing Paris to reformulate its approaches at a particularly turbulent time in both Europe and Africa.
With EFE and Reuters
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