African navy juntas exploit anti-French feeling to safe coup assist | EUROtoday
“Everybody is here to fight for our freedom,” Issaka stated late final month as he stood outdoors the navy base in Niamey, the place nightly protests solely just lately started to wane. “What we have had is only so-called independence from France.”
Although the July coup that toppled President Mohamed Bazoum started due to a dispute with the top of his presidential guard, Western officers and analysts say, junta leaders have capitalized on rising resentment towards France among the many inhabitants to cement their reputation. Taking a web page from latest coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger’s new navy leaders have tarred the nation’s democratic leaders as too intently linked with France and promoted a populist message calling for the departure of the French navy and diplomats from the area.
“You need an enemy, and the juntas have said from the beginning that France is their enemy,” stated Rahmane Idrissa, a Nigerien political scientist primarily based within the Netherlands. “They are almost in a mood where they are high on nationalism. And so they are accepting everything right now in the name of nationalism.”
Anti-French sentiment has lengthy existed in France’s former African colonies however lately has grow to be an more and more highly effective issue within the Sahel area, which cuts throughout the continent under the Sahara desert and consists of Niger. West Africans have grown annoyed that France’s navy presence has not stopped violent assaults by Islamist extremist teams and been uncovered to widespread criticism and disinformation about France on social media.
Issaka, who additionally lived for years within the United States, stated that he believes in democracy. But he stated that Bazoum and his predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou, who was additionally elected democratically, had grown corrupt, ineffective and too intently related to France to be thought-about reliable.
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Within a number of days of the July coup, the junta spokesman publicly warned of a “plan of aggression” by France. Thousands of Nigeriens marched towards the French embassy, chanting “down with France” and waving Russian flags earlier than smashing home windows and setting a door on the embassy on hearth. Just a few weeks later, the junta gave France’s ambassador a 48-hour deadline to depart and ended navy cooperation between the 2 nations. The French military says its 1,500 troopers, who’ve already began to go away Niger, will probably be fully in another country by the top of the yr.
A senior French official stated that the Nigerien regime has had “bad results in terms of security and the economy, so they are focusing their posture on asking the French to leave.” The official stated that France, on the request of Niger’s leaders earlier than the coup, had been working with Nigerien military as a accomplice, with the Nigeriens main operations. It stays “a very open question” how France, the European Union and United States will now be capable to pursue counterterrorism within the area, stated the official, who spoke on the situation of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the state of affairs.
Andrew Lebovich, a analysis fellow with the Clingendael Institute, a suppose tank within the Netherlands, stated the pace with which the partnership ended mirrored the Nigerien navy’s suspicions about French intentions. It additionally revealed displeasure with French President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to acknowledge coup leaders and insistence that Bazoum remained the top of state.
“European and American officials saw Niger as this last bastion for cooperation and reasonable, well-thought-out policies on security matters,” he stated. “That was why this coup hit them especially hard.”
The French overseas affairs ministry and Macron’s workplace didn’t reply to requests for remark. A senior French official beforehand stated that France, on the request of Niger’s leaders earlier than the coup, had been working with Niger’s military as a accomplice with the Nigeriens main operations.
Hannah Rae Armstrong, a Sahel knowledgeable primarily based in Dakar, stated that Nigerien assist for the coup spoke to the differing perceptions at dwelling and overseas. In Europe and the United States, Bazoum and Issoufou had been largely celebrated as uncommon democratic leaders within the area. In Niger, Armstrong stated, they had been usually perceived as leaders of an ineffective, corrupt political regime.
“The coup could be read as a declaration of independence,” she stated. “It amounts to a rejection of a political model Nigeriens perceived as allying French interests with their own corrupt leadership. In order to do things differently, they had to sweep away both.”
In the wake of the coup, Niger’s different onetime Western companions, together with the United States, are being pressured to chart a brand new technique as they attempt to counter teams linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State and Russia’s rising affect within the area. The United States, which has about 1,000 troopers in Niger and a big drone base, has paused all operations not associated to the safety of its personal forces. Already, the nation has seen a spike in assaults by extremists for the reason that coup.
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Since the coup, the primary query that foreigners usually get in Niger’s capital is a model of: “Vous venez d’où?” The query — “Where are you from?” in French — has been requested in markets and on the facet of the street, by activists, by common folks and by authorities officers alike.
“Good,” stated Birgui Abat Ahmad, a 50-year-old cook dinner sitting underneath the shade of a neem tree on a latest day, upon studying a journalist was from the United States. “Because we hate the French.”
Lounging on a bamboo chair by the facet of the street between afternoon prayers and lunch, Ahmad furrowed his forehead and wagged his finger: “If someone tells you there is a good French person,” he stated, “they are wrong.”
Ahmad and his pals, veering into conspiracy theories, accused France of pillaging Niger’s pure provide of uranium and of working behind the scenes to destabilize the area. They castigated Bazoum and Issoufou as being “puppets” of France.
Researchers famous that Bazoum broke with sure insurance policies supported by the French, together with by negotiating with native extremist teams and supporting efforts to demobilize Islamist militants.
Activist Abdoulaye Seydou, the nationwide coordinator for the M62 coalition of civil society teams, stated the checklist of grievances in opposition to France is lengthy. Seydou, whose group has largely supported the brand new leaders, accused French politicians of attempting to exert management over previous makes an attempt at navy cooperation amongst West African nations. He stated Nigerien troopers advised him that French counterparts weren’t clear or respectful, even towards their Nigerien superiors.
Seydou stated the ultimate straw got here when the French navy opened hearth on civilians in 2021 after they surrounded a convoy heading to Mali to protest the French navy presence, then did not take duty. The Nigerien authorities on the time stated that two civilians had been killed that day. A spokesman for the French military stated on the time that troopers had “used force in a proportionate and appropriate manner” given the violence of the gang and added that the “confused situation” made it inconceivable decide whether or not there was a hyperlink between the French photographs and the deaths of the demonstrators.
Seydou stated the door shouldn’t be perpetually closed to working with foreigners, so long as they “respect our sovereignty.”
But he added: “As far as France is concerned, we don’t see any cooperation with them today.”
Omar Hama Saley in Niamey contributed to this report.