On Sunday, September 24th, it was announced that France will be withdrawing its ambassador and military forces from Niger following a coup that ousted the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum in July. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the decision, marking a pivotal moment in Franco-Nigerien relations.
The move comes after mounting tensions between France and Niger, exacerbated by the new military rulers’ demand for the exit of French forces and the ambassador. Macron, in a televised interview, stated, “France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours, our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France.” He further noted that the military cooperation was “over,” and the 1,500 French troops stationed in Niger would commence withdrawal in the “months and weeks to come,” aiming for a full pullout “by the end of the year.”
This development is seen as a “new step towards the sovereignty of Niger,” as per a statement from Niger’s new rulers, and has been welcomed by many in Niger, with thousands having protested in recent weeks for France’s exit. The situation mirrors similar scenarios in Mali and Burkina Faso, where French troops were also asked to leave following political unrest.
The regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), had initially imposed sanctions post-coup but dialed back as regional countries supported the new military rulers. The Sahel region, encompassing Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, has been a hotbed of political instability and armed rebellion, with these nations forming a mutual defense pact on September 16 against potential threats.
France’s military presence in Niger was initially at the behest of the Nigerien government to combat extremist groups. However, the new military rulers suspended military cooperation post-coup, accusing Bazoum’s government of inadequately protecting the nation from armed rebellion.
The withdrawal signifies a notable shift in France’s presence in Africa, marking an end to its colonial power hold on African nations. The repercussions of this withdrawal are yet to be fully realized, but experts believe it might impact the fight against violent extremist groups in the Sahel region.