French President Emmanuel Macron revealed on Sunday evening during a joint interview with TF1 and France 2 that the French ambassador would return to Niamey “in the coming hours,” and French troops would depart by the end of the year.
“France has decided to bring back its ambassador,” announced Emmanuel Macron during a televised interview. He further specified, “In the coming hours, our ambassador, along with several diplomats, will return to France.”
After weeks of reluctance to recall Sylvain Itté, the French Chief Diplomat in Niger, whose departure had been demanded by the junta, President Macron ultimately resolved an untenable situation, according to insiders familiar with the matter.
Following the removal of his diplomatic immunity on August 29th, the top French representative in Niger found himself effectively confined within the embassy premises. The Nigerien security forces had imposed a near-blockade on the embassy, making it difficult for supplies to enter, routinely inspecting vehicles, cutting off internet access, and barring access to other countries’ ambassadors. The pressure escalated when several pickup trucks armed with automatic weapons stationed themselves in front of the embassy for several minutes.
“We are ending our military cooperation with the de facto authorities in Niger because they no longer wish to fight terrorism,” Emmanuel Macron also declared, indicating that the 1,500 French soldiers would depart “in the coming weeks and months” and that the withdrawal would be completed “by the end of the year.” This withdrawal of French troops based in Niger, which was one of Paris’s last allies in the Sahel before the July 26th coup, follows similar moves in Mali and Burkina Faso, where France has already been pushed out by hostile juntas.
The junta hails it as a “historic moment”
“However, we will consult with the coup leaders because we want this to happen peacefully,” President Macron added. After a decade of counterterrorism military operations in the Sahel, France now maintains a presence of 1,000 soldiers in Chad in the region.
On Sunday, the military responded with a statement read on television, celebrating a new step toward Niger’s sovereignty. It stated, “French troops, along with the French ambassador, will leave Niger by the end of the year. This is a historic moment that reflects the determination and will of the Nigerien people.”
Until this Sunday evening, Paris and Niamey had been at an impasse since the July 26th coup, with relations at their lowest point between the two capitals. France refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the military regime and had been ignoring its demands, insisting that ousted President Bazoum was its only interlocutor.
The generals in Niamey had placed France in their crosshairs from the moment they seized power. In early August, they first denounced military cooperation agreements with Paris and deemed the presence of approximately 1,500 troops deployed in the fight against jihadists as “illegal.” Numerous demonstrations supporting their demand for the withdrawal of French troops took place in Niamey in recent weeks. Later in August, they demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador, Sylvain Itté. Both of these demands were eventually acceded to by Paris on Sunday evening.
In France, the political opposition reacted to the President’s announcement. Eric Ciotti, the leader of the Republicans, lamented, “France’s voice in Africa is fading away. This is dangerous because much of Europe’s future is at stake in Africa. It’s a mistake that we are paying for, a result of policies in place since 2012.”
“It is evident that France has been involved in actions on this continent for years that have not led us – or them – to the right place. Today, we are managing the aftermath of that, but there is not much light at the end of the tunnel. We are extremely concerned. When you come to the point of breaking diplomatic relations, it is undoubtedly a recognition of failure,” observed Marine Tondelier, the Secretary of Europe Ecology-The Greens.