Niger president defends French involvement in Sahel region

The president of Niger has defended France’s actions within the troubled Sahel area, saying Paris had been the sufferer of propaganda and populist anti-neocolonial sentiment.

“It’s true that French coverage in Africa just isn’t a terrific success proper now,” President Mohamed Bazoum, who has emerged because the west’s staunchest ally within the area, instructed the Monetary Occasions.

“However is it France’s fault? I don’t assume so. France is a straightforward goal for the populist discourse of sure opinions, particularly on social media amongst African youth.”

Anti-French sentiment is powerful in lots of former French colonies within the Sahel, the semi-arid strip south of the Sahara desert which has been convulsed by jihadist violence perpetrated by teams linked with Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Paris has been blamed for triggering the disaster in Libya, for failing to quell the jihadist risk and for backing unpopular leaders. Mali, which expelled France after the primary of two coups in 2021, has contracted Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to assist it combat the insurgency. There are issues that Burkina Faso, now additionally beneath navy rule, may comply with go well with. Niger’s president mentioned he believed the regime in Ouagadougou after they mentioned that Wagner was not in Burkina.

Bazoum mentioned Wagner had been ineffective in Mali, the place it has been accused by human rights teams of atrocities. The instability within the north of the nation had worsened since Wagner’s arrival, he mentioned, pushing refugees into each Niger and Algeria.

On France, he mentioned: “Its adversaries need to challenge a picture of France as a neocolonialist energy. Some individuals persist with that cliché, which isn’t true, however which could be very helpful for propaganda.”

Bazoum downplayed home criticism of his determination to extend the French navy presence in Niger, saying intelligence from Paris was a giant assist in Niger’s personal warfare on terror. France has a big navy base in Niamey whereas the US has a drone base close to the northern metropolis of Agadez.

Terrorist exercise has been steadily rising in Niger, a lot of it spilling over the border from Burkina Faso, the place, by some estimates, the federal government controls solely 40 per cent of the territory. “In Burkina, issues have gotten quite a bit worse over the previous yr. It’s a narrative of degradation,” Bazoum mentioned.

Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, a senior Sahel analyst on the Worldwide Disaster Group, mentioned Bazoum’s pro-western stance had acquired a combined reception at house, the place he had taken “fairly successful”. “The identical anti-French discourse that has proliferated in Mali and Burkina Faso can be current in Niger,” he added.

The two presidents shake hands at the Elysée Palace
French president Emmanuel Macron, proper, welcoming Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum on a go to to Paris in February © Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Photographs

Bazoum deserved credit score for enhancing safety in Niger, Ibrahim mentioned, particularly at a time when jihadis had been gaining floor within the area, in addition to for his stance in opposition to corruption. However he had had much less success in enhancing schooling in a rustic with one of many world’s lowest literacy charges, Ibrahim mentioned. The group across the president was “weak”, he added.

Bazoum’s election in 2021 marked Niger’s first democratic transition since independence from France in 1960 and he has come to be seen as a key western ally within the combat each in opposition to terrorism and creeping navy rule.

Antony Blinken this yr turned the primary US secretary of state to go to Niger within the nation’s historical past, underlining its rising strategic significance.

“Niger is a younger democracy in a difficult a part of the world, however it stays true to the democratic values that we share,” Blinken instructed his hosts throughout his go to to Niamey the place he pledged $150mn of further humanitarian help to Sahelian international locations.

Niger stays a fragile democracy and one of many poorest international locations on the earth. It’s shedding practically 500 soccer pitches of arable land per day to desertification, in accordance with the UK’s Africa minister Andrew Mitchell, who additionally visited Niger this yr.

Bazoum, whose administration was rattled by a coup try two days earlier than his inauguration in 2021, mentioned establishments had been strengthening regardless of persistent issues of instability, poverty and starvation in some components of the nation. There was “zero probability” of a navy takeover, he added.

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