2024January 2024OpinionAfrica

U.S. Struggles to Maintain Presence in Niger after France’s Withdrawa

Aidan Ishaan Raman Bogan
Staff Writer

In the aftermath of the recent regime changes which have swept across the several governments within the Sahel region, the Republic of the Niger poses a particular dilemma to the future of American and European military bases. Due to ongoing unrest within the country, Mohamed Bazoum, the former president, was taken hostage by the insurgent Nigerien armed forces on July 26, 2023. He was  subsequently surpassed in power by the prominent General Abdourahamane Tchiani two days following the taking of the president. 

Accordion to France24, General Tchiani has had a prominent role in the Nigerien military over the past decade, once rallying the armed forces of the nation in opposition to a previous coup d’etat attempt by a coalition of insurrectionist dissenters in the army under the leadership of Sani Saley Gourouza in 2021. The National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, a military junta under the command of Tchiani and his allies in the armed forces, currently governs Niger in 2024. Presently, there is no clear intention within the administration to commit to a return to democratic elections and civilian rule. 

Niger is not the only nation in the Sahel region which has undergone momentous regime changes in recent times. The beginning of the new decade and onward has seen a wave of successful coup d’etat attempts. Between 2020 to 2023, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Sudan have all seen an insurgent overthrow of their previous heads of state as military officials rise to prominence in national politics over the institutions of the democratic process.  

Former Chief of Staff to the President of the Malian Republic, Kamissa Camara, commented on the current affairs of the ‘Coup Belt’ in a University of Michigan dialogue with Susan D. Page, saying, “taking Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Chad as examples, there’s a generational shift in the leadership. The coup leaders are far younger—almost half the age—of the presidents they ousted. Consequently, their worldview significantly diverges from that of the previous leaders. On a geopolitical scale, the tensions between the U.S. and France, observable in nations like Niger, undoubtedly signal a tug of war for regional influence.” 

The security and stability of West Africa has been a tenuous arrangement since the end of French imperial rule, as French military and financial investments continued in the region for many decades. The French Republic has drawn back its involvement in the affairs of North Africa and West Africa as the nation, in a similar fashion to the post-colonial considerations of the United Kingdom and Portugal, continually sees a developing national political debate concerning France’s place in the international diplomatic order. According to The Associated Press, December 22, 2023 saw the French armed forces having entirely departed from Niger in accordance to the previous deadline which had been agreed to with the reigning junta. 

Gilles Yabi of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace commented that the deadline came as one of the demands of the new regime in Niger as many of its former European security partners ceased their support after the 2023 coup d’etat. Entering January 2024, France, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with one of the largest investments of financial investments and military resources in the Sahel region, no longer holds a strong presence in the new regimes which have been established. This has recently raised security concerns for the other NATO members which have influence in the region. The United States stands as the largest contributor to NATO and its military capabilities, with the US Air Base 201 in Niger being one among many in Africa which support the country and its allies’ continental security interests. According to the New York Times, the $110 million air base installation stands as a bulwark against potential expansion of local militant terrorist organizations. 

In light of both the recent upheaval in the Nigerien government as well as the ongoing Sahel War spurred on by Islamist, the French withdrawal from Niger has raised concerns that NATO may soon lose its grasp over the security affairs of West Africa.

Image courtesy of U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jan K. Valle – This image was released by the United States Air Force 

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