Niger’s new military rulers have accused France of “blatant interference” in the country’s domestic affairs.
The military leaders voiced their discontent with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has expressed support for ousted leader Mohamed Bazoum, and accused him of perpetuating a neocolonial operation against the Nigerien people.
Colonel Amadou Abdramane, speaking on behalf of the military rulers, condemned Macron’s recent comments, stating that they constituted further interference in Niger’s internal affairs. Abdramane accused Macron of continuously advocating for an invasion of Niger, undermining the country’s right to self-determination.
Macron, on the other hand, has backed the strong stance taken by the Economic Community of West African States regarding the coup against President Mohamed Bazoum. ECOWAS has threatened military action if diplomatic efforts to reinstate Bazoum fail, and Macron has expressed France’s support for both the diplomatic and military actions that may be taken by ECOWAS.
The relationship between Niger and France, its former colonial power and an ally in its fight against armed rebellion, has deteriorated rapidly since Paris stood by Bazoum. Macron, in his support for Bazoum, praised him as a principled, democratically elected, and courageous leader.
This disagreement over the political situation in Niger has sparked widespread dissatisfaction among the people. Thousands of individuals gathered outside France’s military base in Niger to demand the withdrawal of French troops. The M62, a coalition of civil groups opposed to the French military presence in Niger, organised a three-day sit-in to protest against what they perceive as French interference.
The accusations made by Niger’s military rulers against France highlight the complex dynamics of the relationship between the two countries. France’s historical ties with Niger, coupled with its involvement in the fight against armed rebellion, have put it in a delicate position. While France sees itself as supporting a democratically elected leader, the military rulers argue that external involvement undermines their nation’s sovereignty.
According to an M62 leader, Falma Taya, it is imperative for France to leave Niger since it is not their home. However, the French president has disregarded Niger’s governing body, claiming that they lack legitimacy, and has rejected the new administration’s deadline for the departure of the French ambassador.
Additionally, France has refused to withdraw their military forces from the country. Currently, there are approximately 1,500 troops stationed in Niger, with a significant number positioned at an airbase near the capital. These troops are actively involved in combating armed groups.
During his recent statement on Friday, President Macron emphasised his daily communication with President Bazoum while reaffirming France’s unwavering support for the deposed leader.
“I maintain regular contact with President Bazoum. We stand by him firmly and refuse to acknowledge those responsible for the coup d’état. Our decisions moving forward will be based on discussions with Bazoum,” stated Macron.
‘Feels like a ban’: Anti-French Sentiment in Niger Escalates
In a move that has been described as “feeling like a ban,” Niger’s military regime has ordered the expulsion of French Ambassador Sylvain Itte. This decision comes just a week after the military regime gave Ambassador Itte 48 hours to leave the country, demonstrating a clear escalation in tensions between Niger and its former colonial power.
The decision to expel the French Ambassador and revoke his diplomatic immunity follows in the footsteps of neighbouring countries Mali and Burkina Faso, where military governments have also distanced themselves from France amid a growing wave of anti-French sentiment.
Reports from the capital, Niamey, suggest an increased deployment of security forces at the French embassy and the residence of the French ambassador. Security forces have even taken measures to intercept vehicles leaving the embassy, resulting in the arrest of two drivers. Furthermore, the operations of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the country have been suspended, allegedly due to “security concerns.”
However, one official from an NGO said that the decision to suspend their operations “feels like a ban.” This sentiment is concerning given that Niger is one of the most vulnerable countries, heavily reliant on external aid. The suspension of NGO activities could have serious implications for the wellbeing of the country’s population.
Additionally, the United Nations has reported that approximately 7,300 tonnes of food aid destined for Niger are stuck in transit due to border closures. This further underscores the potential impact of the current situation on the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
In response to these developments, French military spokesman Colonel Pierre Gaudilliere issued a warning, stating that the French military forces are ready to respond to any upturn in tension that could harm French diplomatic and military premises in Niger. This demonstrates France’s commitment to protecting its interests while emphasising the gravity of the situation.
The president of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, who serves as both the current chairman of ECOWAS and a staunch opponent of the coup, suggested on Thursday the possibility of a nine-month transition period leading back to democracy.
In addition, Algeria, which shares a land border of approximately 1,000km (620 miles) with Niger, put forward a transitional plan spanning six months that would be overseen by civilian authorities.
Recently, the leader of the coup in Niger proposed a three-year transition following discussions with a delegation from West African nations.