Six weeks have passed since soldiers seized control in Niger, and it appears that the nation’s neighbouring countries have come to terms with the reality of Abdourahamane Tiani’s junta firmly establishing authority. However, Niger’s former coloniser, France, has taken a markedly different approach, challenging the legitimacy of the military government and calling for the reinstatement of Mohamed Bazoum as the leader.
French President Emmanuel Macron has categorically refused to recognise the military government’s authority. Macron has demanded the restoration of democratic leadership and has resisted orders to withdraw the French ambassador and the 1,500 troops stationed in Niger. Additionally, he has expressed support for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should it decide to employ force to restore democracy, although ECOWAS maintains that diplomacy is its primary focus. The outcome of this diplomatic standoff remains uncertain, though the risk of armed conflict appears to be relatively low.
France’s stance in this crisis raises questions of consistency and hypocrisy. Historically, Paris has often supported coups that align with its interests. Just two years ago, it effectively backed a bloodless coup in Chad, a crucial military ally. France continues to collaborate with long-standing leaders in Central Africa, such as Paul Biya in Cameroon and Denis Sassou Nguesso in the Republic of the Congo, both of whom have held power for decades.
Anti-French sentiment prevails across its former colonies, with widespread resentment over the enduring influence Paris wields, decades after these nations gained independence. This sentiment has contributed to a series of coups in Western and Central Africa over the past three years, with eight out of nine power transitions occurring in territories formerly controlled by France.
Ironically, the strained relations between France and Niger’s junta could inadvertently bolster the military’s support base and solidify their rule. When it comes to influencing public sentiment in Francophone Africa, confronting France, a historical figurehead, can be seen as a rallying point.
As the standoff between France and Niger’s junta continues, the complex dynamics of colonial history, the repressive political systems established by French colonial rule were designed to serve the economic interests of the colonial power, even at the expense of the well-being and self-determination of the colonised populations. These systems left a lasting impact on many former French colonies, shaping their political, economic, and social landscapes long after gaining independence.