The political landscape in Niger is undergoing significant upheaval, with large-scale demonstrations occurring outside a French military base in the capital, Niamey. Protesters are vocally demanding the departure of both the French ambassador, Sylvain Itte, and the approximately 1,500 French soldiers stationed in the country.
This unrest follows the military coup that occurred on July 26th, during which Niger’s military government took control. The government has since criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for his comments regarding the coup, accusing him of perpetuating France’s neocolonial ties with Niger, its former colony.
Despite being given a 48-hour deadline to exit Niger over a week ago, Ambassador Itte remains in the country. Macron has publicly supported this decision, stating he ”applauds” Itte’s choice to stay.
The demonstrations, while initially peaceful, have seen a shift in tone. Al Jazeera correspondent Ahmed Idris, reporting from Niamey, noted that protesters, frustrated by the continued French presence, are taking more assertive actions. Security personnel were caught off guard by the sheer number of demonstrators who gathered hours before the scheduled start of the protest. While previous demonstrations were described as “relatively calm and organized,” recent events saw barriers being broken, with some protesters attempting to forcefully enter the army base.
Doubou-Kambou Hamidou, a protester present at the military base, said, “All military bases. We want to fight to remove from our country all military bases.” He continued, “We don’t want it. Because for more than 13 years, terrorism has been here. They don’t care to fight terrorism”
In response, the military has bolstered security measures around the French base, cautioning against any forceful entries and the potential consequences thereof.
The situation is further complicated by Macron’s vocal support for Niger’s deposed President Mohamed Bazoum. Macron revealed, ”I speak every day to President Bazoum. We support him. We do not recognize those who carried out the putsch.” This stance has been labeled as “blatant interference” in Niger’s internal affairs by the military government.
The West African bloc, ECOWAS, has also weighed in, threatening military intervention if diplomatic efforts to reinstate Bazoum fail. Macron has urged regional states to adopt a responsible stance, emphasizing France’s support for ECOWAS’s diplomatic and potential military actions.