In a huge blow to France's policy and presence in Africa, President Emmanuel Macron announced Sunday that France is not only pulling its ambassador from Niger, but is ending its military presence, with a full exit by close of 2023.
Macron in Sunday statements confirmed, "We are putting an end to our military cooperation with the de facto authorities of Niger because they don’t want to fight terrorism anymore."
The July 26 coup d'état occurred when the military-controlled presidential guard detained president Mohamed Bazoum. The junta leaders later accused France of secretly plotting with Bazoum to restore him to power through military intervention.
Paris has refused to recognize the new military rulers, and Macron in the fresh remarks blamed the coup leaders for severing "cooperation" with French forces on fighting terrorist. He said he's pulling troops "because we are not there to deal with internal politics and be hostages of putschists."
For weeks a standoff between the junta and the French ambassador in Niamey has endured, after Amb. Sylvain Itté refused to leave his post, saying France doesn't recognize the military rulers' authority.
Niger's junta, under the leadership of Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, is now positively celebrating Macron's military withdrawal announcement, saying it signals a "new step towards the sovereignty" of the country. Gen. Tchiani previously indicated a transition period of three years would be needed before restoring the country to civilian rule.
"Imperialist and neo-colonialist forces are no longer welcome on our national territory. The new era of cooperation, based on mutual respect and sovereignty is already underway," the new junta statement said.
France has some 1,500 troops in Niger, along with other Western allied troops - including Americans - but their presence has been seen as hostile given Paris has supported threats from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to intervene militarily to reinstate ousted president Bazoum.
The ECOWAS are still threatening military intervention, but this has been on the table for weeks and they appear to be waffling, given Niger's military has reportedly bolstered its border defenses. Any potential intervention by the West African nations would likely happen along Nigeria's some 1,000-mile border with Niger.
Watch Macron announce the withdrawal of French troops in Niger and his petulant ambassador:https://t.co/zW0umRlxeh— Richard Medhurst (@richimedhurst) September 24, 2023
The Associated Press has highlighted there's been a domino of regional coups which has put France on the retreat in Africa:
The announcement was a significant, if expected, blow to France’s policy in Africa, with French troops having had to pull out of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in recent years after coups there. France had stationed thousands of troops in the Sahel region at the request of African leaders to fight Islamic extremist groups.
While 'counter-terrorism' has long been offered as the official justification for France's enduring military presence in what were once extensive colonies it controlled in Africa colonial times, Paris has without doubt prioritized steady access to African gold, oil, and uranium - now increasingly coming to an end.
Niger's coup leaders and supporters, however, have long been suspicious of any European or US military presence in western and central Africa, accusing the West of a new colonialism bent on ensuring stable supply of cheap but valuable resources to Europe.