In Niger, tension escalated as supporters of a military coup took to the streets in front of the French Embassy to express their frustration with France’s influence in the former colony.
The demonstrations witnessed thousands of protesters, who despite calls from the Kremlin to release Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, voiced their support for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
A Show of Dissent
Amid the heated scenes, some demonstrators went as far as tearing down the Embassy’s plaque, replacing it with Russian and Nigerien flags, and voicing slogans like “long live Putin,” “long live Russia,” and “down with France.” The protesters expressed their displeasure with what they perceive as France’s continued control over the country’s resources and economy.
French Embassy Faces Opposition
The French Embassy in Niger found itself at the center of the protests, with some protesters resorting to violent actions. Reports indicate that Nigerien security forces deployed tear gas to disperse the crowds, while a photograph captured people attempting to start a fire outside the compound.
France’s Stance and ECOWAS Demands
In response to the escalating situation, President Emmanuel Macron’s office issued a warning that France would retaliate against anyone attacking French nationals or facilities in Niger. Meanwhile, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanded the release and reinstatement of President Bazoum within a week. The coup, executed by the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, has faced widespread international condemnation.
History of Unrest and ECOWAS Measures
Niger has a history of military coups since gaining independence from France in 1960. The recent coup disrupted a period of relative political stability following the country’s first democratic transfer of power when Bazoum assumed office in 2021.
ECOWAS is prepared to take drastic action to restore constitutional order in Niger if the junta remains in power. This includes potential use of force and the implementation of punitive measures, such as closing land and air borders with the nation. The group has rejected any purported resignation by Bazoum, considering him a hostage in this unfolding crisis.
International Support and Chad’s Involvement
Both France and the European Union have expressed willingness to back ECOWAS organizations in sanctioning the junta. They have already withdrawn financial support for Niger. Notably, Niger’s eastern neighbor, Chad, may have aligned itself with the country’s military leaders, as President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno was seen in the capital, Niamey, alongside a key figure in the coup. However, Chad is not a member of ECOWAS.
Unsettling Echoes of History
The demonstrations in Niger reflect a deeply rooted anti-colonial sentiment. Having been a French colony for over five decades, many Nigeriens believe that France continues to wield an imperialistic influence, adversely affecting their nation’s natural resources and economic direction. The sentiments expressed by the protesters highlight their desire for freedom and a future independent of perceived foreign control.
Russia’s Growing Influence
Russia has sought to leverage this anti-colonial sentiment to strengthen its influence across the African continent in recent years. While the Africa-Russia summit saw seventeen African heads of state attending in St. Petersburg, attendance was lower this year, likely influenced by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
A Region in Flux
The anti-France, pro-Russia movement is not unique to Niger, as similar sentiments have been observed in several Sahelian countries in recent times. Burkina Faso, for instance, witnessed demands from its military government for the departure of French troops earlier this year.
The situation in Niger remains highly volatile, and the international community closely watches developments as demands for change and concerns over foreign influence intersect in this West African nation.