The relationship between Niger and its former colonial power, France, has significantly deteriorated following the July coup in Niger, where France expressed its support for ousted president Mohamed Bazoum. The latest development in this strained relationship is Niger’s concern over France’s deployment of its forces in several Economic Community of West African States countries, which Niger claims is in preparation for an aggression against their nation.
Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane, the spokesperson for Niger’s regime, voiced these concerns on Saturday, accusing France of planning an intervention in collaboration with the ECOWAS. The Sahel state is already dealing with a tense situation as it faces a standoff with the West African bloc, ECOWAS, which has threatened military intervention if diplomatic efforts to reinstate Bazoum fail.
Abdramane’s statement revealed that France has deployed military aircraft, helicopters, and 40 armoured vehicles to neighbouring countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Benin. He further mentioned that military cargo aircraft have been used to transport significant quantities of war material and equipment to Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and other undisclosed locations.
The concerns raised by Niger come as no surprise, considering the strained relationship between the two nations in recent months. France’s support of Bazoum, following the coup that toppled his government, angered certain factions within Niger. They saw it as an interference in their domestic affairs and a betrayal of national sovereignty.
Beyond the deteriorating relationship between Niger and France, the deployment of French forces in ECOWAS countries raises broader questions about France’s involvement in the region. France has maintained a military presence in the Sahel region as part of Operation Barkhane, aimed at fighting terrorism and instability. However, the extent and nature of this deployment have caused unease among regional countries, including Niger.
The French government has been engaged in military cooperation agreements with Niger, which includes the deployment of approximately 1,500 French soldiers in the country to combat jihadist activities.
However, on August 3, the coup leaders in Niger renounced these agreements. Paris, while not recognizing the military regime in Niger, does not consider the soldiers who overthrew the president as party to those cooperation deals.
The military regime, on the other hand, maintains that France’s forces are now “illegally” stationed in Niger. In light of this, the French army is currently in talks with the military regime to withdraw “elements” of its presence in Niger.
The Nigerien people have been protesting for over a week, demanding the departure of French soldiers from the country. The United States, which also has troops stationed in Niger, has begun relocating its soldiers to the central city of Agadez as a precautionary measure.
France and Niger are currently in a diplomatic dispute regarding the withdrawal of French ambassador Sylvain Itte’s diplomatic immunity.
Despite repeated demands from Niger, France has refused to comply, citing the lack of legal authority of the military regime to make such an order. Discussions are ongoing regarding the departure of France’s troops, with Niger expressing hope for continued cooperation with France.
Additionally, Niger is optimistic about reaching an agreement with ECOWAS regarding a transition period following the recent coup, with the goal of avoiding the difficulties experienced by other countries in the region.
Agencies contributed to this report