In a surprising turn of events, France has decided to withdraw its ambassador and troops from Niger after the country’s military authorities severed diplomatic relations with its former colonial master.
This decision comes in the aftermath of a coup that overthrew the democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum and has sent shockwaves throughout the region.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in a televised interview on Sunday, stated that France will be withdrawing its ambassador and several diplomats from Niger. He affirmed that military cooperation between the two countries was now “over” and that the 1,500 French troops stationed in the country would be gradually pulled out in the months and weeks to come, with a complete withdrawal expected by the end of the year.
The decision to withdraw came after weeks of pressure from both the military and popular demonstrations in Niger. Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the capital, Niamey, to protest and demand the departure of French troops. These protests have also extended to military bases housing French soldiers. The new rulers of Niger, who were responsible for the coup and had been demanding France’s exit, have welcomed President Macron’s announcement.
In a statement read out on national television, the new rulers of Niger expressed their joy at the withdrawal of French troops and ambassadors, stating that it marked a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger. They emphasised that this moment was historic and reflected the determination and will of the Nigerien people.
This development in Niger is not isolated, as France’s troops have also been asked to leave its former colonies, Mali and Burkina Faso. It appears that there is a growing sentiment of anti-French sentiment in these countries, with many citizens expressing a desire for complete independence and sovereignty.
France’s withdrawal from Niger has significant implications for both countries. France has had a long-standing presence in Niger, providing support and military cooperation since the country gained independence in 1960. Niger has been an important strategic partner for France in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region.
In the midst of escalating tensions, President Macron reaffirmed France’s stance on the situation in Niger. He emphasised that President Bazoum is being held against his will and remains the only legitimate authority in the country.
President Macron stated, “President Bazoum was targeted by this coup because of his bold reforms and due to a significant settling of ethnic scores, as well as political cowardice.”
The military rulers in Niger have accused the Bazoum government of not doing enough to protect the country from armed rebellions in the western regions, which are part of the semi-arid Sahel region.
Over the past decade, western Niger has become a hotbed for violence perpetrated by armed groups with affiliations to al-Qaeda and ISIS. This conflict has spread to central Mali and northern Burkina Faso.
To address this growing threat, Western countries had joined forces with President Bazoum and provided substantial military aid and assistance to strengthen Niger’s armed forces.
In addition, on Friday, the military government in Mali issued a stern warning to the United Nations General Assembly that it would resist any form of military intervention in Niger. The three Sahel countries—Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger—have formed an alliance to jointly combat any adversaries they may face.
The withdrawal of French troops raises questions about the future stability and security of Niger. With a growing threat of extremist groups in the region, the absence of French military support could potentially leave a security vacuum that could be exploited by these groups. It also remains to be seen how this withdrawal will affect the broader geopolitical dynamics in the Sahel region, particularly with neighbouring countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso.