• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Niger Coup: Macron announces withdrawal of French troops

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French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Sunday that France will withdraw its troops from Niger by the end of the year following a July coup in the West African country. The move deals a major blow to French influence and counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel region.

Macron said that France, the former colonial power in Niger, refused to “be held hostage by the putschists.” He added that France would coordinate the troop withdrawal with the coup leaders.

The French president’s decision comes after weeks of pressure from the junta and popular demonstrations. France’s exit will likely exacerbate Western concerns over Russia’s expanding influence in Africa. The Russian mercenary force Wagner is already present in Niger’s neighbour Mali.

French influence over its former colonies has waned in West Africa in recent years, just as widespread abuse has grown. Its forces have been kicked out of neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso since coups in those countries, reducing its role in a region-wide fight against deadly Islamist insurgencies.

Until the coup, Niger had remained a key security partner of France and the United States, which have used it as a base to fight an Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa’s wider Sahel region.

Read also Niger coup supporters want French ambassador, troops to leave

Russia’s Expanding Presence

France’s military base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, had become the epicentre of anti-French protests since the July 26 coup. Groups have regularly gathered on the street outside to call for the exit of troops stationed in the capital. On one Saturday this month, tens of thousands rallied against France, slitting the throat of a goat dressed in French colours and carrying coffins draped in French flags.

Pro-coup demonstrators in Niamey have waved Russian flags, adding to Western countries’ fears that Niger could follow Mali’s lead and replace their troops with Wagner fighters.

Before he died in a plane crash last month, Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin spoke in a social media clip of making Russia greater on all continents and Africa more free. Wagner’s future has been unclear since his demise.

Wagner is also active in the Central African Republic and Libya. Western nations say it is also present in Sudan, though it denies this. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a return to constitutional order in Niger.

France’s Nuclear Ties to Niger

French nuclear power plants source a small amount – less than 10% – of their uranium from Niger, with France’s state-owned Orano operating a mine in Niger’s north.

Macron said that he still regarded democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum, currently held prisoner by the coup leaders, as Niger’s legitimate leader and had informed him of his decision.