Paris [France], September 27: France is finally facing up to reality by withdrawing both its ambassador and military from Niger two months after a coup ousted the pro-Paris president, but the pullout marks the most severe setback yet for President Emmanuel Macron's Africa policy, observers say. Macron had staked France's strategy in the Sahel region of Africa on the political future of President Mohamed Bazoum, making the country a hub for its forces after successive coups in Mali and Burkina Faso forced the withdrawal of French troops.
Paris long appeared reluctant to accept the ousting of Bazoum in a military coup on July 26. But while still insisting Bazoum remains the legitimate president, Macron announced in a TV interview Sunday that France's ambassador would soon leave, followed by all French troops by the end of the year. France must now grapple with the logistical headache of pulling out 1,500 troops and hardware from a country ruled by military leaders it bitterly opposes, as well as urgent questions about the fate of its entire military deployment to fight jihadists in the region.
"This third blow in less than two years against the presence of French military forces in Africa is the most serious setback for the head of state on the continent since his election in 2017," said France's Le Monde daily. It said that in contrast to the pullouts from Mali and Burkina Faso, which in some quarters had been seen as an opportunity, the "forced withdrawal from Niger is a real blow for the entire military.
Niger's coup leaders are also demanding a "negotiated framework" for France to withdraw its troops. The new military regime said in a statement read out on national TV late on Monday that the timeframe for the pullout "must be set out in a negotiated framework and by mutual agreement". "Regarding the ambassador, we have no comment to make about the modalities of his return", French foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said Tuesday. "The release of President Bazoum is a priority," she added.
Macron has repeatedly spoken of making a historic change to France's post-colonial imprint in Africa, by abandoning any notion of the so-called strategy "Francafrique" where Paris sought to keep francophone Africa under its thumb. But analysts say Paris is losing influence in the face of a growing Chinese, Turkish and Russian presence, giving Macron's bold words about a new relationship with Africa little chance of taking flight.
For researcher FahiramanRodrigueKone, of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), "France did not know how to withdraw at the right time and wanted to continue to play the leader in a context where the sociological environment has strongly changed." A French diplomatic source, who asked not to be named, said Paris was reaping the consequences of a "hypermilitarization of our relationship with Africa" at a time when the most pressing crises on the continent were of security, poverty and environment.
"Mali was a big hit, we knew that we were facing a major trend. We have seen this wave rising for years. France felt that it was losing its footing, but remained in denial and stunned," the source told AFP. The French deployment in the region goes back over a decade to 2013 when then president Francois Hollande sent troops into Mali to help fight a jihadist insurgency.
The operation, which then morphed into the Sahel-wide Barkhane mission, saw successes notably in the killing of several key jihadist leaders and also in securing vast swathes of territory using tactics that impressed military analysts. Fifty-eight French troops lost their lives. But the military successes have contrasted with political failure, as democracy regressed rather than developed in a region also plagued by a flood of disinformation that Paris blames on Russia.
'Worried about region'
"I am very worried about this region," Macron said in the TV interview as he announced the pullout. "France, sometimes alone, has taken all its responsibilities and I am proud of our military. But we are not responsible for the political life of these countries and we draw all the consequences." France initially appeared dubious that the coup would succeed over time and also backed threats of regional bloc ECOWAS for military intervention - which never translated into action.
French intransigence caused tensions even with allies, including the United States, which has 1,000 troops stationed in Niger and reportedly favored a more pragmatic approach. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin indicated Monday that Washington was not immediately planning to match the French move, saying it would "evaluate" its future steps. Uncomfortably for Macron, one of the last remaining allies of France is Chad President MahamatIdrissDeby who came to power without any constitutional process in 2021 following the frontline death of his father IdrissDeby who had ruled the country for three decades.
French media have also repeatedly noted that he is currently even without an official advisor on Africa after Franck Paris, who had served in the post since 2017 until earlier this year, departed for France's mission in Taiwan. For Senegalese daily WalfQuotidien, "with this umpteenth setback, France sees its influence and its power reduced dramatically in West Africa in particular and in Africa in general." - AFP
Source: Kuwait Times