Many events and conversations took place behind closed doors before French President Manuel Macron backed down and accepted popular demands in Niger.
These demands included the withdrawal of all French forces and the departure of the French ambassador. Macron’s acceptance came after Niger’s leaders refused to allow a French plane to land and transport their ambassador back to Paris. Instead, the new rulers insisted on deporting the ambassador on a non-French plane.
This violation and insult towards France highlights a shift in power dynamics. France is no longer the powerful empire it once was, with its influence now being challenged by new powers like China, Russia, and the United States.
After the events of July 26 and the overthrow of President Mohamed Bazoum, Paris found itself in an exceptional situation.
The crisis in Niger marks a turning point for French presence in Africa and represents a diplomatic setback for the decision-making circle in the Elysee Palace.
Following similar events in Bamako, Mali, and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Niamey, the capital of Niger, is now experiencing rapid developments, which were swiftly followed by the coup in Gabon.
France’s misjudgment in not anticipating these coups suggests arrogance, excessive self-confidence, or a failure to proactively address the political and social dynamics, developmental mechanisms, and latent powers of these countries.
It also reveals a failure in effectively managing the so-called “war against terrorism” on the African coast.
Interestingly, despite relying on Niger as a base for French military presence after withdrawing from Mali and Burkina Faso, there was an unexpected failure in anticipation and monitoring.
Initially, there was a belief in Western cohesion in response to the new situation, but it became evident in the days following the coup that the United States took a different approach compared to France. Unlike France, the United States avoided mentioning a military option and maintained contact and dialogue with the coup plotters.
This difference reflects the United States’ desire to protect its partnership with Niger, which includes a crucial logistical base for monitoring and following up on the situation in East Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.
Niger, despite its significant uranium wealth, relies on American financial aid and development programs due to its status as one of the poorest countries in the world, with seven million people suffering from food insecurity.
During the Cold War era, the United States served as a protective cover for France and Britain in their spheres of influence in Africa.
While the focus shifted to economic interests with the consolidation of Chinese presence in Africa, the post-9/11 era introduced new dimensions with the war against terrorism, internal conflicts, and battles for influence and resources between former colonial powers and emerging powers. These factors indicate that the vision of “Africa for Africans” in both word and practice is still a long way off.
The lack of serious American pressure on the military leaders in Niger is evident through conciliatory statements from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the visit of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to Niger, and the appointment of a new US ambassador, Kathleen Fitzgibbon, to Niger.
Furthermore, the United States’ efforts to contain the new leaders can be seen as an attempt to distance Russia from a vital American position in Africa and avoid a confrontation between the West and Russia, particularly in light of the focus on the Ukrainian war.
It’s worth noting that the Russian group Wagner is active in the Central African Republic and Libya, and while Western countries claim its presence in Sudan, the group denies it. Russian President Vladimir Putin also called for a return to constitutional order in Niger.
The failure of Western powers to address the recurring coups in the African Sahel region reflects a failure to effectively combat terrorism.
The Nigerien event and the divergence between France and the United States highlight that the priority lies not in defending democracy or countering terrorism but rather in maintaining influence and protecting interests, even at the expense of African peoples.
Dr Hatem Sadek is a Professor at Helwan University