Thousands of protesters gathered outside a French military base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, demanding the withdrawal of French troops following a military coup that enjoys widespread popular support but is not recognized by Paris.
The coup, which took place on July 26 and is one of eight in West and Central Africa since 2020, has attracted the attention of global powers concerned about the rise of military rule in the region.
France, in particular, has been heavily impacted as its influence over its former colonies in West Africa has diminished in recent years, coinciding with an increase in popular resentment. French forces have been expelled from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso after coups in those countries, reducing their role in the fight against deadly Islamist insurgencies across the region.
Anti-French sentiment has grown in Niger since the coup, and tensions escalated further when France disregarded the junta’s order for its ambassador to leave. The junta instructed the police to expel the ambassador, Sylvain Itte.
During the protest outside the military base, demonstrators symbolically slit the throat of a goat dressed in French colors and carried coffins draped in French flags. Nigerien soldiers observed the scene. Protesters also displayed signs calling for France to exit the country.
According to Reuters reporters, the demonstration was the largest gathering since the coup, indicating that support for the junta and resentment towards France remain strong.
One demonstrator, Yacouba Issoufou, expressed their determination, saying, “We are ready to sacrifice ourselves today because we are proud. They looted our resources, and we have become aware. So they will have to leave.”
As of early evening local time, no violent incidents had been reported.
France previously had amicable relations with ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and maintains approximately 1,500 troops stationed in Niger. French President Emmanuel Macron stated on Friday that he spoke with Bazoum daily and that any decisions made would be based on consultations with him.
The junta in Niger condemned Macron’s comments as divisive and accused France of perpetuating a neo-colonial relationship.
France is not the only country with concerns regarding the situation in Niger. The regional bloc ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) has imposed sanctions on Niger and has threatened military intervention as a last resort. The United States and European powers also have troops stationed in the country.
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of ECOWAS, suggested last week that a transition period of nine months leading to civilian rule could appease regional powers. The junta in Niger had previously proposed a three-year timeline.