Tensions escalate ‘short of war’ in rebel West African Sahel States
In the last few days, France and the new military rulers of Niger have engaged in a tit for tat exchange of threats and sanctions as France, the former colonial power in the region, builds up its military might in border countries and imposes sanctions on what it regards as the rogue state.
French President declares that Niger's military leaders are holding French Ambassador hostage
The French President, Macron, told reporters on Friday last (16th September), that Niger’s military leaders were holding the French Ambassador hostage in the Embassy. He said:
‘They are preventing food deliveries…he is eating military rations. [The envoy] cannot go out, he is persona non grata and he is being refused food’
When asked what action France intended to take in response, Macron responded by saying:
‘I will do whatever we agree on with President Bazoum, because he is the legitimate authority and I speak with him every day’.
The French Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna, confirmed the current status of the French Ambassador and said:
‘The Ambassador is working. I can confirm that, and he is very useful through his contacts, his team, there is still a small team with him [and he] will stay as long as we want him to stay’
France suspends all development aid to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and suspended student visas to Niger
France has suspended all development aid to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali and also announced Friday that as all French consular services in the three states had been closed for security reasons, no further student visas will be issued. They did however confirm that students already in France would not have their visas revoked and that existing scholarships will remain active.
Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali sign new security pact
On Saturday 16th September, the leaders of the three states of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso announce that they had signed a security pact – which pledged to come to the aid of each other in the event of any external aggression. The charter, which defined an ‘Alliance of Sahel States’, directed that:
‘Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracted parties will be considered an aggression against the other parties’
Mali’s new leader, Assimi Goita posted a statement on social media Twiiter account on Saturday, which stated:
‘I have today signed with the Heads of State of Burkina Faso and Niger, the Liptako-Gourma charter establishing the alliance of Sahel States, with the aim of establishing a collective defence and mutual assistance framework’
EU Foreign Affairs Chief pledges EU support to French Ambassador in Niger
The EU’s High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josef Borell, spoke to the press at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, where EU ministers had gathered and confirmed the EU’s solidarity with former President Bazoum. He said:
‘We expressed our solidarity with France over the situation of its ambassador on the ground…we need a new approach as we are facing a much more complex environment. We insisted on the idea that we need African solutions for African problems’
Josef Borell had earlier explained to ministers in the European parliament, that EU money and resources had expended upwards of €600 million in civilian and military missions across the Sahel. He said that they had been involved in training 30,000 members of the security forces and specifically 18,000 troops in Mali and Niger
Niger accused France of ignoring their request to leave and of building a military invasion force on its borders
Just over a week ago, the new military rulers in Niger who in July ousted former President Mohamed Bazoum from power, accused France, the Former colonial power, of ignoring their request to remove French troops from Niger’s soil and to leave the region.They had noted instead, that France was continuing to deploy its military forces in several ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries as part of a planned aggressive action of military intervention. In a televised address, the spokesman for the military rulers declared that they were in possession of intelligence indicating that France had deployed additional troops, military aircraft, helicopters and as many as 40 armoured vehicles to Cote d’Ivoire and Benin.
The President of Benin, Patrice Talon, has seen protesters take to the streets in their thousands demanding his resignation and accusing him of being a puppet of the French government, for allowing France to deploy its military forces in Benin.
Muslims gather outside French barracks praying for the French troops to leave
Meanwhile, thousands of supporters of the ousters in Niger, continued to protest this weekend outside the French military base in Niamey, Niger’s capital, chanting demands for the French troops and the French Ambassador to leave. After Friday prayers on Friday 15th September, thousands of Nigerien Muslims assembled in front of the military base in what has become a weekly prayer seeking the departure of French troops.