Niger’s coup d’état on July 26, 2023, along with recent news of France’s withdrawal of its ambassador and military presence in Niger, has stirred questions of a troubling future for the country and region. The July coup saw the overthrowing of the Nigerien government and its president, Mohamed Bazoum, which was led by the newly self-proclaimed military junta leader Presidential Guard commander General Abdourahamane Tchiani, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Since Niger’s coup in July, France has kept 1,500 troops in the region to maintain stability and fight Islamic extremist groups. The Associated Press reports that the new junta ordered France’s ambassador to leave but was consistently denied by France, who claimed they did not recognize the legitimacy of the leaders. Niger’s situation has escalated within the last several weeks, and French diplomats there have had to depend on military rations for survival. Recently, coup leaders stated that they would be closing Niger’s airspace to French military and commercial planes, which the new junta believes will allow them to regain control of its skies and land.
France’s response raises security concerns for Niger, who invited France a decade ago, along with other nations, to help fight Islamic extremist groups in the region. The Guardian reports that French President Emmanuel Macron has voiced concerns about the Sahel region’s safety, especially with growing jihadist attacks in Mali and Niger. In addition, problems boil as terrorist networks have grown since Niger’s coup and less focus on counterterrorism against ISIS has led to the terrorist group taking advantage of that gap, reports NBC News.
According to The Guardian, the withdrawal of French troops from Niger marks a “turning point in Western nations’ efforts to counter a decade-long Islamist insurgency in the Sahel region.” Niger, along with countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso struggling through turbulent times, have responded with a surge of anti-French rhetoric that has diffused throughout the Sahel and led to French withdrawal. Reuters reports that France’s response to the constant pressure to remove its presence from Niger has minimized its influence in the Sahel region, leaving a gap for Russian expansion.
Niger, a former French colony, has faced the lasting effects of colonialism to the present day, and sentiments against France have grown in the country and other francophone nations within the West African region. According to NPR, France’s involvement with Niger and other francophone countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso have not been received well, especially as their economies have suffered due to French colonialism. NPR states that French leaders have actually received suitcases of money and diamonds in exchange for support of African dictators, which contributes to bad feelings.
According to The Associated Press, Insa Garba Saidou, an activist and assistant to Niger’s military junta, has spoken of the reasons why Niger requested for the French to leave, which include French failures to fight terrorism in the region, its intrusion in Niger’s domestic policies, and its hinderance of development in Niger and Africa. As anti-French rhetoric fills Niger’s political climate, external influences such as Russia are expanding throughout the Sahel. Now questions have arisen regarding whether Niger will consult the help of the Wagner group, a private Russian mercenary group that operates in a few African countries in the region according to The Associated Press.
Now that France has withdrawn its troops and its influence fades away, the United States has declared the removal of Niger’s president a military coup, according to Al Jazeera. The designation of the coup accompanies the U.S. also suspending aid to Niger because of the country’s resistance to solutions that would restore civilian rule. While the decision has implications, the U.S. has not removed its troops from the region as tensions continue. Uncertainty looms in the air as the world awaits what will happen next in Niger, as it could have dangerous consequences in the Sahel, West Africa, and the continent.
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