After having denied the will to intervene on the territory, France declared that a first plane was going to repatriate the French nationals this Tuesday August 1st, in the afternoon, from Niamey.

The Quai d’Orsay announced the evacuation of French nationals in Niger in a context of “violence which took place against our embassy the day before yesterday and the closure of airspace which leaves our compatriots without the possibility of leaving the country by their own means,” the ministry said. A first military plane carrying French nationals will take off from Niamey in the afternoon of Tuesday August 1, 2023. The latter were warned, on the night of Monday July 31 to Tuesday August 1, that an evacuation was imminent. In a message sent to some 600 French people in Niger, the French Embassy in Niamey warned that an “air evacuation operation [was] being prepared” and “will take place very soon”. .

Niger’s elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, is currently being held captive by members of the presidential guard, led by General Abdourahamane Tiani, who is now the country’s new strongman. This coup was justified by the deterioration of the security situation, which worries the French military presence in the region. Niger, located in the heart of the Sahel, is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a population of around 20 million and high population growth. Niamey is France’s last ally in the region to fight jihadist groups, while neighboring countries have called for the withdrawal of French soldiers from their territory.

Since the summer of 2022, France has redeployed part of its forces from Mali to neighboring Niger, leading to a significant reduction in its military personnel in the Sahel, from around 4,500 to 2,500 men, including 1,500 in Niger and 1 000 in Chad. Previously, Niger served mainly as a transit base for operations in Mali, but now the country hosts the heart of the French military with a planned airbase in Niamey, where five Reaper drones and at least three Mirage fighter jets are deployed. . The mission of the French forces is to support the Nigerien troops in combat and to help them strengthen their armies, while the Islamic State group in the Sahara regains power on the Malo-Nigerian border.

“In its line of conduct, going in the direction of finding ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger, France, with the complicity of certain Nigeriens, held a meeting at the headquarters of the National Guard of Niger , to obtain the necessary political and military authorizations,” the junta’s press release explained on Monday.

The current situation in Niger raises questions about the fate of the 1,500 French soldiers deployed in the country. According to the journalist specializing in Africa, Antoine Glaser, part of these troops could return to France, thus marking the end of a historic period of post-colonial military presence in the region.

President Emmanuel Macron strongly condemned the putsch. “Anyone attacking French nationals, the army, diplomats and rights of way would see France respond immediately and intractably. The President of the Republic will not tolerate any attack against France and its interests”, thus reacted the ‘Elysium.

The Nigerien soldiers who overthrew the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, accused France on Monday (July 31) of “wanting to intervene militarily”. “That’s wrong,” replied French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on BFM-TV. “France’s only priority is the safety of its nationals. (…) The measures we are taking are only measures intended to ensure the safety of our compatriots.”

Also in place after a military push, Mali and Burkina Faso gave a warning of military intervention to restore the regime of Mohamed Bazoum. According to the statement issued on Monday, July 31, an intervention “would amount to a declaration of war” against them. On Sunday July 30, fifteen countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided on sanctions and left the threat of a “use of force” to restore power. It gave General Abdourahamane Tiani and his men seven days to restore Niger’s elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, to office.

Skepticism towards the French military presence in Niger is not limited to the context of the coup, but also stems from certain inhabitants who deplore the country’s lack of sovereignty vis-à-vis the former colonial power. Some believe that France never considered Niger as a partner, but rather as an overseas colony. Demonstrators expressed anti-France slogans in Niamey, highlighting the desire to strengthen the country’s sovereignty from a diplomatic point of view. General Tchiani, Niger’s new strongman, showed himself to be moderate towards the country’s allies, but expressed his desire to renew cooperation with the putschist regimes of neighboring countries, Mali and Burkina Faso. Some citizens of Niger believe that their country should draw inspiration from these examples to assert its sovereignty and not depend exclusively on France.

While the future of the French military presence in Niger remains uncertain, France’s interests in the country remain multiple. The security challenge in the face of the terrorist threat, the stability of the Sahel region, as well as diplomatic partnerships are all factors that will have to be taken into account in the possible reorientation of the mission of the French soldiers in this delicate and unstable region.