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Defying Niger's ruling junta, French envoy to stay in his post in Niamey despite being ordered to leave

Sylvain Itte was ordered by the Nigerien Foreign Ministry to leave the country within 48 hours on Sunday, citing "actions of the French government contrary to the interests of Niger".

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Paris Published on: August 28, 2023 18:38 IST
France President Emmanuel Macron addressing a gathering of
Image Source : AP France President Emmanuel Macron addressing a gathering of French envoys in Paris

France's Ambassador to Niger Sylvain Itte will be staying in his post in Niamey despite being told to leave the country by the ruling junta after the military coup last month, announced French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday. He also emphasised that France is not Niger's enemy.

Since the military coup where Niger's democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted, the Nigerien military has exploited grievances against former coloniser France and has severed military ties with the European nation. It has also turned to Russia's mercenary group Wagner for help.

Amid the political chaos, Itte was asked to leave Niger within 48 hours on Friday last week in a letter from the junta-controlled Foreign Ministry, which accused him of ignoring an invitation for a meeting with the Ministry. It also alleged "actions of the French government contrary to the interests of Niger".

Dismissing concerns over the danger of standing up to the Nigerien military, Macron told French ambassadors, "Our policy is the right one. It depends on the courage of President Mohamed Bazoum, the commitment of our diplomats, of our ambassador on the ground who is remaining despite pressure."

"One shouldn’t give in to the narrative used by the coup leaders that consists of saying France has become our enemy," he further asserted.

Macron also alleged that the coup leaders are abandoning the fight against terrorism, a policy he said that was economically beneficial for the Nigerien population. He also noted that the populace was running the risk of international funding that could have helped them emerge out of poverty.

France is one of the nations which has strongly condemned the coup and has acknowledged only the authority of Bazoum, who is still detained after the coup. Niger was seen one of the last Western allies in the fight against Islamist terrorists in the West African region. France had deployed at least 1,500 military personnel in the country as part of counter-terrorism operations in the wake of anti-French sentiments elsewhere in the region.

Macron's statement also refer to various sanctions by Western and African countries imposed on the military junta of Niger, which have raised concerns of further pushing the Nigerien population into poverty. Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and heavily relies on international funds.

Anti-French sentiment in France

Soon after the military coup in July, hundreds of pro-military protesters attacked the French embassy in Niamey, setting it on fire, waving Russian flags in support of Vladimir Putin and denouncing the former coloniser.

The attack caused France, along with other European nations, to evacuate their citizens from the capital Niamey, amid concerns of civilians becoming trapped after the takeover. Soon after, Niger suspended military ties with France.

In the latest case of increasing hostility of the Nigerien junta towards France, social media reports have said that the Nigerien junta cut off water and electricity to the French Embassy in Niamey and barred food deliveries, reported Anadolu Agency.

Why are Nigeriens hostile towards France?

One of the major reasons for Niger's hostile stance towards France can be alluded towards the failure of security forces to eradicate the threat of Islamic terrorism in the region.

Notably, Niger is a major producer of uranium, a vital component of nuclear arsenals across the world. A majority of the uranium produced in Niger goes to European countries, especially France. 

Many people in Niger still believe that despite their independence in 1960, France has continued to act as an imperial power by robbing its resources and dictating its economic policies. Many citizens hold France to be responsible for the nation's current financial situation by exploiting their resources. 

Sentiment against France is also apparent in other African nations, such as Burkina Faso - another military-controlled nation in the West African region. The recent coup in Niger has proved to be a setback for French strategy in the conflict-torn region.

(with AP inputs)

ALSO READ | African Union suspends Niger over military coup, demands 'effective restoration of constitutional order'

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