French President Emanuel Macron has announced that France is withdrawing its 1,500 troops from the West African state of Niger, two months after the coup there.
The new rulers make no secret of their anti-French attitude and have already given the French ambassador the go-ahead. With that, the cooperation with Niger, France’s second last ally in the region up to and including the coup, ended.
Already before that, two other West African countries, Burkina Faso and Mali, ended the military cooperation with France and the troops were withdrawn. In the two countries, coups removed the pro-French leaders, apparently with the help of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group. More recently, there was also a coup in another former French colony with traditionally strong ties to France, namely in Gabon.
Currently, it is not yet clear whether the new rulers also want to break ties with France, but the deposed president Ali Bongo was indeed a close ally of France. Only with Chad, where France also maintains a military base, good relations still exist.
The announcement of the withdrawal from Niger is a further nail in the coffin of the concept of Francafrique. The term refers to France’s continued political, military and economic involvement in its former colonies in Africa, almost all of which became independent in 1960 but have retained strong ties to the former motherland.
This was especially the policy of President Charles de Gaulle (president from 1959 to 1969) and was continued by his successors. For de Gaulle, it was important that France retain its former glory and influence, especially against the eternal competition of the English-speaking world. France’s sphere of influence is especially strong in two regions, namely in West Africa and Central Africa. The erstwhile North African colonies, on the other hand, ushered in a reasonable break with France after independence.
The close ties between France and certain of its former colonies were usually beneficial to both sides. However, this also meant that France supported certain dictatorial leaders financially and even militarily in order to maintain stable relations. Exemplary for this is the long-standing autocratic leader Felix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, whose country was one of the more prosperous and stable states in Africa, in contrast to Guinea, which completely broke with France and instead sought its salvation in international socialism did, with disastrous consequences.
However, France’s close ties with certain dictators have often become an embarrassment for a country that values human rights and democracy so highly.
Economically, the ties between France and most of its former colonies were sealed by the introduction of a common currency, the “CFA-Frank” (CFA stands for Communaute Financiere d’Afrique) which applies within the French Commonwealth and is linked to the French Franc, and since 1999 to the Euro. It facilitated trade between France and the CFA countries. However, the CFA currency is currently undergoing changes to give the African countries greater financial sovereignty, so that France’s influence is also waning here.
The gradual change in relations between France and its former colonies was heralded years ago, but has gathered speed under Macron. Macron and his two predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicholas Sarkozy all belong to a new generation that no longer comes from the era of de Gaulle and the pursuit of French glory and honor and that also does not understand Africa.
Their thinking is focused on the unification of Europe and they grew up in a time where colonialism was established as a great evil at school and university and France’s heavy-handed and paternalistic actions in its colonies were widely criticized and its stabilizing and civilizing role was totally denied. For example, Macron described French colonialism as a “crime against humanity”, something that only strengthened France’s enemies in Africa.
According to Macron, Hollande and others, the relations with Africa would be based on equal partnership, which sounds good, but has achieved the opposite: since France no longer radiates vigor and pride and no longer acts in favor of friendly governments, these countries turn instead, they go to states known for their heavy-handedness, such as Russia and China.