As tensions between France and Niger escalate, France has taken the significant step of indefinitely closing its embassy in Niger, citing an inability to function normally or fulfill its missions due to restrictions imposed by Niger’s military government.
This decision follows the dismissal of local embassy staff, as outlined in a letter by former French ambassador Sylvain Itté. The strained relationship between Niger and France intensified after the military ousted President Mohamed Bazoum in July.
The deteriorating situation prompted Mr. Itté and several French staff to leave Niger in September, a month after the military regime mandated the ambassador’s exit and established a blockade around the embassy premises in Niamey.
The embassy had faced a previous threat when pro-junta protestors attempted to storm the premises shortly after the coup, but Nigerien forces intervened, preventing their entry.
This announcement coincides with the approaching deadline set by Niger’s military government for the departure of French troops, whose presence was vital in the fight against jihadist groups affiliated with both al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
While most of the 1,500 French troops have already left, the remaining 157 are required to depart by Friday.
Niger’s junta has recently solidified a new defense alliance with Burkina Faso and Mali, both former French colonies where military takeovers have occurred in recent years.
Anti-French sentiment has surged in these nations, blaming the former colonial power for its perceived failure to halt the Islamist insurgency and accused of retaining excessive political and economic influence long after their independence.
Despite France’s exit, the United States maintains a military presence in Niger with two military bases and over 600 troops. The U.S. views its continued military engagement in Niger as crucial in countering the growing influence of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group in the Sahel region of West Africa.
Mali’s military junta has collaborated with Wagner mercenaries in their fight against jihadists, although the group has faced allegations of widespread human rights abuses.
The closure of the French embassy in Niger continues to highlight the complex geopolitical dynamics in the region, marked by shifting alliances, accusations of foreign influence, and the ongoing struggle against jihadist insurgency.