In a significant development, France has decided to withdraw its 1,500 soldiers from Niger by the end of this year, a decision prompted by the July 26 coup in the country.
President Emmanuel Macron also announced the withdrawal of France’s ambassador, Sylvain Itte, in the coming hours.
President Macron emphasized that France, Niger’s former colonial power, refuses to be “held hostage by the putchists.”
This decision is seen as a blow to French influence and counter-insurgency efforts in the Sahel region.
The timing of France’s exit, following weeks of pressure from the junta and public protests, raises concerns among Western nations about Russia’s expanding influence in Africa, particularly in Niger’s neighbor, Mali, where the Russian mercenary force Wagner is already present.
Despite not recognizing the junta as Niger’s legitimate authority, Macron stated that Paris would coordinate the troop withdrawal with the coup leaders, aiming for an orderly transition.
Notably, French nuclear power plants source a portion of their uranium from Niger, and Macron still regards democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum, currently held prisoner by the coup leaders, as Niger’s legitimate leader.
Niger’s military rulers responded positively to the news, seeing it as a step toward the sovereignty of Niger.
They celebrated this development as a historic moment, reflecting the will of the Nigerien people.
However, the military rulers also announced the banning of “French aircraft” from flying over Niger’s airspace, raising questions about the ambassador’s departure.
French influence in West Africa has declined in recent years, particularly following the expulsion of French forces from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso due to coups in those countries.
Niger had previously been a crucial security partner for both France and the United States in the fight against Islamist insurgencies in the wider Sahel region.
The French military base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, had become a focal point of anti-French protests since the July 26 coup, with demonstrators calling for the withdrawal of French troops.
This decision also raises concerns about the potential replacement of French troops with Wagner fighters, as pro-coup demonstrators in Niamey have waved Russian flags.
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