Emmanuel Macron has stated that France will withdraw its ambassador from Niger, followed by the French military contingent in the coming months. This decision comes in the wake of a coup in the West African country that led to the removal of the president known for his pro-Paris stance.
The French president's announcement seems to put an end to a period of approximately two months during which Paris's ambassador had remained in Niamey, despite the coup leaders' previous order for him to depart.
“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador,” Macron told French television in an interview, without giving details over how this would be organised. “In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France.”
Niger's military leaders have imposed a ban on French aircraft from traversing the nation's airspace, as reported by the Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation in Africa and Madagascar website. The implications of this restriction on the evacuation of the French ambassador remain uncertain.
Additionally, President Macron announced the termination of military cooperation and revealed plans for the gradual withdrawal of French troops in the coming "months and weeks," with a complete withdrawal scheduled by the end of the year.
He added, “We will consult the putschists because we want this to be done peacefully.”
In a swift response conveyed through a televised statement, Niger's military rulers expressed their stance on the matter. They emphasized the significance of the day, framing it as a crucial stride toward Niger's sovereignty. These military leaders took control after overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, and they view this moment as historic, reflecting the determination and will of the Nigerien people.
France maintains a presence of approximately 1,500 soldiers in Niger as part of their anti-jihadist efforts in the Sahel region. President Macron noted that the authorities in power following the coup have signaled a shift in their stance, indicating a reduced commitment to combatting terrorism.
Following the overthrow of Bazoum, Niger's military leaders instructed the French ambassador, Sylvain Itté, to depart the country. However, an initial 48-hour ultimatum issued in August lapsed, with Ambassador Itté remaining in his post. The French government declined to comply with the directive or recognize the legitimacy of the military regime.
Recently, President Macron revealed that Ambassador Itté and his staff were effectively "held hostage" within the mission. They found themselves consuming military rations with no food deliveries taking place.
During the interview, President Macron reiterated France's stance, emphasizing that Bazoum was being held as a "hostage" and continued to represent the "sole legitimate authority" in Niger.“He was targeted by this coup d’etat because he was carrying out courageous reforms and because there was a largely ethnic settling of scores and a lot of political cowardice,” Macron said.
The recent coup against President Bazoum marks the third such takeover in the region within the past three years, following similar incidents in Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022, which also prompted the withdrawal of French troops. This coup in Niger carries particular significance for President Macron, who had actively sought to establish Niamey as a crucial ally and a focal point for France's presence in the region, especially after the Mali coup. Notably, the United States also maintains a presence with over 1,000 troops stationed in the country.
Despite being under house arrest in the presidential residence, President Bazoum maintains regular phone contact with President Macron. While President Macron has repeatedly expressed his intentions to bring about a historic transformation in France's post-colonial relations with Africa, analysts observe that Paris's influence on the continent is waning, particularly in light of the rising influence of China, Turkey, and Russia.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had threatened military intervention to reinstate President Bazoum, with strong support from France. However, as of now, these threats have yet to materialize into concrete actions.
“We are not here to be hostages of the putschists,” said Macron. “The putschists are the allies of disorder. I am very worried about this region,” he said. “France, sometimes alone, has taken all its responsibilities and I am proud of our military. But we are not responsible for the political life of these countries and we draw all the consequences.”
Image source: Reuters