At the end of July, Niger’s presidential guard deposed head of state Mohamed Bazoum in a military coup. The West African country of around 25 million people has recently been an important partner of France in its fight against terrorism in the Sahel region.
Paris has around 2,500 soldiers deployed in Niger and neighboring Chad. The new ruler in Niger is the commander of the elite unit, General Abdourahamane Tiani, who suspended the constitutional order.
APA/AFP/Ian Langsdon Macron has repeatedly rejected the troop withdrawal demanded by the coup plotters – now soldiers are leaving by the end of the year
Ambassador taken hostage
According to Macron, Ambassador Sylvain Itte will also return to France. By the end of August, the coup plotters had already demanded the diplomat’s departure – an ultimatum that France did not recognize, claiming that his accreditation came from Niger’s deposed elected representatives.
In mid-September, Macron reported that the ambassador and his team were being held “hostage”. The former colonial power does not recognize the new government – just like other Western and African states.
Airspace closed to French aircraft
As French media unanimously reported on Sunday, the military government closed Niger’s airspace exclusively to French aircraft on Saturday. The airspace only reopened on September 4, after a month-long ban on commercial flights. However, this does not apply to “French aircraft or aircraft chartered by France, including those of Air France”, according to a Nigerian statement published in this context over the weekend.
Before the coup, France actively supported President Bazoum’s government in the fight against jihadist militias. The former colonial power had to withdraw its troops after military coups in the neighboring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso. Niger was considered the West’s last ally in the region. According to a media report, the imminent withdrawal from Niger is now “a significant, albeit anticipated, blow to French policy in Africa”.
Alliance of Sahel States
According to Mali’s interim president, Assimi Goita, Niger and the military-ruled states of Mali and Burkina Faso have agreed to a defense alliance. The objective of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) is “to create an architecture of collective defense and mutual support between the parties”, according to a letter signed by the three countries.
With this, the contracting parties undertake to combat terrorism and organized crime, he stated. “Any violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more Parties will be considered an aggression against the other Parties and will oblige all Parties to provide assistance and reparation… including the use of armed force.”
Mali and Burkina Faso had already sided with Niger when the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened military intervention following the coup d’état in that country.
UN soldiers leave Mali
Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are located in the Sahel zone, at the southern tip of the Sahara, and have been ravaged for years by Islamic terrorist groups that carry out bloody attacks on civilians and increasingly control the territory. The security situation threatens to deteriorate significantly in all countries.
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to end its decade-long peacekeeping mission in Mali. The mission will have six months to withdraw from the West African country.
-BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) June 30, 2023
As a result of the withdrawal of the Malian peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) by the end of the year, decided by the UN Security Council in June, there are already more attacks and the threat of a new conflict with Tuareg separatists. Niger, which was the last democratic partner of the US and European countries in the region, has largely suspended cooperation with foreign partners since the coup.