A fresh round of anti-France protests erupted in Niger's capital, Niamey, as thousands gathered on Saturday to demand the withdrawal of French troops from the country over a month after the military coup that ousted a democratically-elected government from power.
Protesters chanted anti-French slogans and demanded the troops to leave the junta-controlled nation, reported Anadolu Agency. The military administration in Niger had also announced the expulsion of France's Ambassador to Niger Sylvain Itte and gave him a 48-hour deadline to leave the country. However, the French government said that he would stay in his post in defiance of the junta's directives.
French President Emmanuel Macron hailed Itte's courage and dismissed concerns over the danger of standing up to the Nigerien military. "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," he told French ambassadors.
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.
After Macron's remarks, the military administration in Niger accused France of 'blatant interference' in the West African nations, fuelling the weekend protests. Relations between Niger and France had sharply deteriorated after the July 26 coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
The Nigerien military has exploited grievances against former coloniser France and has severed military ties with the European country. It has also turned to Russia's mercenary group Wagner for help. On the other hand, France has refused to acknowledge the authority of the military administration and said that it would respond if its military or diplomatic facilities in Niger are targeted.
France still has at least 1,500 military personnel in Niger as part of counter-terrorism operations in the wake of anti-French sentiments elsewhere in the West African region.
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.