African military juntas exploit anti-French feeling to secure coup support

NIAMEY, Niger — Months after a military coup ousted Niger’s elected president, seen by many right here as too near France, Nigeriens had been nonetheless celebrating the break with their former colonial energy.

Abdoulaye Doule, a 46-year-old hospital employee resting on the aspect of the highway, known as the coup a “liberation.” Amadou Issa, a 51-year-old tailor in his store, stated it meant that Niger “lastly has its complete autonomy.” And Abdoulaziz Issaka, a 48-year-old enterprise marketing consultant who had traveled again to Niger from his residence in Germany, stated the second was about “complete sovereignty.”

“All people is right here to struggle for our freedom,” Issaka stated late final month as he stood outdoors the navy base in Niamey, the place nightly protests solely lately started to wane. “What we’ve had is simply so-called independence from France.”

Though the July coup that toppled President Mohamed Bazoum started due to a dispute with the top of his presidential guard, Western officers and analysts say, junta leaders have capitalized on rising resentment towards France among the many inhabitants to cement their reputation. Taking a web page from latest coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger’s new navy leaders have tarred the nation’s democratic leaders as too intently linked with France and promoted a populist message calling for the departure of the French navy and diplomats from the area.

“You want an enemy, and the juntas have stated from the start that France is their enemy,” stated Rahmane Idrissa, a Nigerien political scientist based mostly within the Netherlands. “They’re nearly in a temper the place they’re excessive on nationalism. And so they’re accepting all the pieces proper now within the identify of nationalism.”

Anti-French sentiment has lengthy existed in France’s former African colonies however in recent times has change into an more and more powerful factor within the Sahel area, which cuts throughout the continent under the Sahara desert and consists of Niger. West Africans have grown annoyed that France’s navy presence has not stopped violent assaults by Islamist extremist teams and been uncovered to widespread criticism and disinformation about France on social media.

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Issaka, who additionally lived for years in america, stated that he believes in democracy. However he stated that Bazoum and his predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou, who was additionally elected democratically, had grown corrupt, ineffective and too intently related to France to be thought-about reliable.

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Inside a number of days of the July coup, the junta spokesman publicly warned of a “plan of aggression” by France. 1000’s of Nigeriens marched towards the French embassy, chanting “down with France” and waving Russian flags earlier than smashing home windows and setting a door on the embassy on fireplace. A number of weeks later, the junta gave France’s ambassador a 48-hour deadline to depart and ended navy cooperation between the 2 nations. The French military says its 1,500 troopers, who’ve already started to leave Niger, shall be utterly in a foreign country by the tip of the 12 months.

A senior French official stated that the Nigerien regime has had “unhealthy outcomes when it comes to safety and the economic system, so they’re focusing their posture on asking the French to go away.” The official stated that France, on the request of Niger’s leaders earlier than the coup, had been working with Nigerien military as a accomplice, with the Nigeriens main operations. It stays “a really open query” how France, the European Union and United States will now be capable of pursue counterterrorism within the area, stated the official, who spoke on the situation of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the state of affairs.

Andrew Lebovich, a analysis fellow with the Clingendael Institute, a assume tank within the Netherlands, stated the velocity with which the partnership ended mirrored the Nigerien navy’s suspicions about French intentions. It additionally revealed displeasure with French President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to acknowledge coup leaders and insistence that Bazoum remained the top of state.

“European and American officers noticed Niger as this final bastion for cooperation and affordable, well-thought-out insurance policies on safety issues,” he stated. “That was why this coup hit them particularly arduous.”

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The French international affairs ministry and Macron’s workplace didn’t reply to requests for remark. A senior French official beforehand stated that France, on the request of Niger’s leaders earlier than the coup, had been working with Niger’s military as a accomplice with the Nigeriens main operations.

Hannah Rae Armstrong, a Sahel professional based mostly in Dakar, stated that Nigerien help for the coup spoke to the differing perceptions at residence and overseas. In Europe and america, Bazoum and Issoufou had been largely celebrated as uncommon democratic leaders within the area. In Niger, Armstrong stated, they had been typically perceived as leaders of an ineffective, corrupt political regime.

“The coup may very well be learn as a declaration of independence,” she stated. “It quantities to a rejection of a political mannequin Nigeriens perceived as allying French pursuits with their very own corrupt management. With a purpose to do issues in a different way, they needed to sweep away each.”

Within the wake of the coup, Niger’s different onetime Western companions, together with america, are being pressured to chart a brand new technique as they attempt to counter teams linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State and Russia’s growing influence in the region. America, which has about 1,000 troopers in Niger and a big drone base, has paused all operations not associated to the safety of its personal forces. Already, the nation has seen a spike in assaults by extremists for the reason that coup.

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Because the coup, the primary query that foreigners typically get in Niger’s capital is a model of: “Vous venez d’où?” The query — “The place are you from?” in French — has been requested in markets and on the aspect of the highway, by activists, by common individuals and by authorities officers alike.

“Good,” stated Birgui Abat Ahmad, a 50-year-old prepare dinner sitting underneath the shade of a neem tree on a latest day, upon studying a journalist was from america. “As a result of we hate the French.”

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Lounging on a bamboo chair by the aspect of the highway between afternoon prayers and lunch, Ahmad furrowed his forehead and wagged his finger: “If somebody tells you there’s a good French particular person,” he stated, “they’re mistaken.”

Ahmad and his associates, veering into conspiracy theories, accused France of pillaging Niger’s pure provide of uranium and of working behind the scenes to destabilize the area. They castigated Bazoum and Issoufou as being “puppets” of France.

Researchers famous that Bazoum broke with sure insurance policies supported by the French, together with by negotiating with native extremist teams and supporting efforts to demobilize Islamist militants.

Activist Abdoulaye Seydou, the nationwide coordinator for the M62 coalition of civil society teams, stated the checklist of grievances towards France is lengthy. Seydou, whose group has largely supported the brand new leaders, accused French politicians of making an attempt to exert management over previous makes an attempt at navy cooperation amongst West African nations. He stated Nigerien troopers informed him that French counterparts weren’t clear or respectful, even towards their Nigerien superiors.

Seydou stated the ultimate straw got here when the French navy opened fireplace on civilians in 2021 after they surrounded a convoy heading to Mali to protest the French navy presence, then did not take duty. The Nigerien authorities on the time stated that two civilians had been killed that day. A spokesman for the French military stated on the time that troopers had “used power in a proportionate and acceptable method” given the violence of the group and added that the “confused state of affairs” made it unattainable decide whether or not there was a hyperlink between the French pictures and the deaths of the demonstrators.

Seydou stated the door isn’t perpetually closed to working with foreigners, so long as they “respect our sovereignty.”

However he added: “So far as France is worried, we don’t see any cooperation with them immediately.”

Omar Hama Saley in Niamey contributed to this report.

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