France has decided to close its embassy in Niger, where “it is no longer able to function normally or carry out its missions,” according to diplomatic sources, definitively confirming a split between the two countries.
This extremely rare measure comes after Niamey announced on December 12 the departure of all French soldiers deployed in Niger as part of the anti-jihadist efforts by December 22, which is this Friday.
This marks the culmination of strained relations between France and Niger since the generals took power in Niamey during a coup on July 26.
In Mali and Burkina Faso, where military regimes also expelled the French army in recent years after coups, France maintained its diplomatic representations despite strong tensions with these countries, which have aligned themselves with Russia, as Niamey seems to be doing.
Four French officials, described as intelligence agents by a Burkinabè source, and IT maintenance technicians according to a French diplomatic source, were arrested in Ouagadougou in early December.
But the dispute seemed insurmountable in Niger, where, “after the attack on our embassy last July 30, and after the establishment of a blockade around our premises by the Nigerien forces, we had, at the end of September, evacuated most of our diplomatic staff,” explained diplomatic sources.
“The French Embassy in Niger is therefore no longer able to function normally or carry out its missions. Acknowledging this situation, we have decided to close our embassy soon and, in this context, proceed with the dismissal and compensation of our local staff,” they continued.
After the coup on July 26, the military in power had swiftly demanded the departure of French soldiers – approximately 1,500 deployed to combat jihadists – and denounced several military agreements concluded with Paris.
– Expelled Ambassador –
The military regime had also expelled the French Ambassador Sylvain Itté at the end of August. He remained trapped inside the diplomatic representation for nearly a month before leaving. President Emmanuel Macron had commented that he was “taken hostage.”
Nigerien companies supplying provisions to the embassy were “dissuaded, even threatened” by the new regime and eventually stopped coming, Sylvain Itté had declared in late September on TF1.
“We had to take out the trash without our friends from the junta noticing,” he said, adding, “It was about bringing in food, water, also showing ingenuity.”
On July 30, the violent demonstration targeting the French embassy turned into an “attack” that “lasted more than 2.5 hours,” he recounted. “That day, we were collectively in danger, and we came very, very close to a tragedy because there were more than 6,000 people there to settle scores, to enter the embassy,” the diplomat narrated.
France had up to 5,500 troops deployed in the Sahel before being ousted by successive coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and finally Niger.
Barkhane, the anti-jihadist force deployed in the Sahel in 2014, crystallized anti-French sentiment among a portion of African public opinion. After these coups, the three countries then aligned themselves to varying degrees with Russia.
The Russian paramilitary group Wagner has mainly established itself in Mali, with whom Moscow signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in October. Several dozen Russian military instructors and trainers are also present in Ouagadougou, although the authorities have not confirmed their presence.
A “strengthening of military cooperation” was also agreed upon in early December between Niamey and Moscow.