PARIS (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron announced Sunday that France would end its military presence in Niger and withdraw its ambassador from the country after a coup ousted its democratically elected president.
The announcement is a major blow to France’s policy in Africa after French troops were withdrawn from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in recent years following coup attempts there. At the request of African leaders, France had stationed thousands of soldiers in the Sahel to fight jihadist groups.
France has stationed about 1,500 soldiers in Niger since the July coup and had repeatedly rejected an order from the new junta to leave its ambassador, saying France did not recognize the coup plotters as legitimate.
Tensions between France and Niger, a former French colony, have increased in recent weeks, and Macron recently said that diplomats holed up in the embassy were surviving on military rations.
Ali Sekou Ramadan, an adviser to ousted Nigerian President Mohamed Bazoum, told The Associated Press that Bazoum had asked Macron to withdraw French Ambassador Sylvain Itte “to ease tensions.”
In an interview with TV channel France-2, Macron said he spoke to the ousted Bazoum on Sunday and told him that “France has decided to bring back its ambassador and in the coming hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France. “
He added: “And we will end our military cooperation with the Nigerian authorities because they no longer want to fight against terrorism.”
He said the troops would be gradually withdrawn in coordination with the coup plotters, probably by the end of the year, “because we want it to be peaceful.”
He said France’s military presence was in response to a request from the then Nigerian government. However, this military cooperation between France and Niger has been suspended since the coup. Junta leaders claimed Bazoum’s government was not doing enough to protect the country from the uprising.
The junta is now under sanctions from Western and regional African powers.
Insa Garba Saidou, a local activist who helps communicate with Niger’s new military rulers, said they would continue to monitor developments until the French ambassador leaves the country. He also called for a clear deadline for the withdrawal of French troops.
“This announcement by the French President heralds the victory of the Nigerian people. However, we will accept this with great reservations because I no longer believe in Mr. Macron,” said Saidou.
On Friday in New York, the military government that seized power in Niger accused UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of “obstructing” the West African country’s full participation in the annual UN meeting of world leaders in order to favor France and to appease his allies.
Experts say that after repeated military interventions in its former colonies in recent decades, France’s era as Africa’s “gendarme” may finally be over as the continent’s priorities shift.
Andrew Lebovich, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, a think tank, said the decision meant both acceptance of a “harsh reality for France in the region and perhaps some restrictions on US operations in Niger, as we have seen.” The US and France have not followed exactly the same positioning in Niger.”
Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, said Niger will feel the loss of French support in the fight against violent extremist organizations.
“France has been a reliable partner supporting its operations and Niger simply has no alternative for the French to fill this gap, at least in the short and medium term,” Lyammouri said.
Macron last year withdrew French troops from Mali following tensions with the ruling junta following a coup in 2020 and more recently from Burkina Faso for similar reasons. Both African countries had called for the withdrawal of French forces.
France too Military operations suspended with the Central African Republic and accused its government of failing to stop a “massive” anti-French disinformation campaign.
Associated Press writers Sam Mednick in Toronto, Dalatou Mamane in Niamey, Niger and Chinedu Asadu in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this report.