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Emmanuel Macron announced on Sunday evening the recall of the French ambassador to Niger, and the departure of the 1,500 French soldiers stationed there: the end of a dangerous impasse. France is being forced to wholly review its African policy.
It's a return to realism — ever since the July 26 military coup in Niamey, France has been steadfast in its defense of its ally, President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held by the coup plotters for nearly two months. This was untenable and ultimately counter-productive.
The French position was based on the legitimacy of an elected president, refusing the injunctions of a military regime which, by definition, runs counter to constitutional rules. Macron reaffirmed this firm position in his speech to French ambassadors gathered in Paris last month.
So, in his televised interview Sunday night, he finally announced the return to France of Ambassador Sylvain Itté, whose departure had been requested by the junta, and above all, the evacuation of some 1,500 French soldiers stationed in the country by the end of the year.
Why did he reverse course? Quite simply, it was clear that the standoff could not be won.
A delicate situation
With each passing day, this position became ever less salvageable. The prospect of regional military intervention was neither realistic nor desirable — adding war to instability cannot be the solution. This is clear, even if the countries of the region continue to push Paris for such a move, fearing a contagion of coups d'état.
The series of coups in French-speaking countries has put France in a delicate situation.
The departure from Niger is the culmination of this impasse.
In Chad, President Idriss Deby's son, who succeeded his father without respecting the constitutional order, was endorsed by Emmanuel Macron; then successive putsches in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger were roundly condemned; finally, the one in Gabon was considered a family affair and provoked no crisis.
These different treatments weaken the legalist stance adopted in the region. Especially in a context where France has become the scapegoat for a triple failure — security failure in the face of the jihadists, political failure with the bankruptcy of facade democracies, and identity failure, with France still lingering in the world 60 years after independence. The departure from Niger is the culmination of this impasse.
Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum has been held by the coup plotters for nearly two months.
Spearing the abscess
France is condemned to completely overhaul its presence and posture in Africa. Today, it has cordial relations with non-French-speaking countries such as Nigeria and Kenya. But it has not settled the accounts of colonization and, perhaps above all, of its incestuous post-colonial relationship with the French-speaking world.
Françafrique is dead.
There is a page to turn if the identity aspirations of the new African generations are to be satisfied. Emmanuel Macron had intuited this in his first major African speech, in Ouagadougou, shortly after his election in 2017. But he's been a failed reformer and was unable to implement the changes he had envisaged.
Today, it's not enough to say that "Françafrique is dead," as the president reaffirmed last night, referring to France's influence over large French-speaking areas of the continent.
The departure from Niger poses serious problems for France, as it is taking place on the defensive in a seriously destabilized part of Africa. But it was ultimately necessary to spear this abscess, so as not to sacrifice the construction of another possible future with the continent.
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