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Military leaders in Niger who overthrew the nation’s president in July celebrated on Sunday after French President announced France will withdraw all troops from the West African country.
On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced he will end his country’s military presence in Niger and remove his ambassador. It follows coups in several other West African nations formerly colonized by France, including neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.
“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France,” Mr Macron said.
Macron said French military presence in Niger was “over.” France will withdraw all troops in “the months to come,” The BBC reported.
France withdraws troops
The military junta ruling Niger immediately declared victory against colonization.
“This Sunday we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger,” the junta said, according to AFP news agency.
For years, France’s military cooperated with West African nations to fight against religious terrorists plaguing the continent.
Meanwhile, opposition to French influence and disappointment over France’s failure to contain Islamic Jihadists have boiled over into outright rejection of the former empire.
In July, the military junta took power from President Mohamed Bazoum. He’s reportedly been on house arrest for the last several months. Despite France agreeing to withdraw its troops, President Macron said he still sees Bazoum as the only legitimate leader.
Adding to the tension is the fact that Western countries are trying to limit Russian influence in the region. France’s departure deals a major blow to that effort.
Hundreds of French troops are stationed across the Niger. The military junta gave France an ultimatum to withdraw them all. Macron at first refused, saying he would only recognize an order from the deposed president.
At one point, a group of African nations had threatened to invade Niger to reinstall President Bazoum in a move supported by France.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is made up of 15 West African countries who share cultural ties.
ECOWAS threatened Niger’s military junta, but as France withdraws all troops and diplomatic personal from the country, those threats will likely not materialize.
Macron changes course, withdrawing from Niger
Macron blasted the coup, saying President Bazoum became a “hostage” in his own country because of his planned reforms and because his opponents wanted to settle “ethnic” scores.
An aide to the deposed president told the Associated Press Bazoum asked Macron to remove all troops “in order to reduce tension.”
France’s decision to withdraw troops from Niger on Sunday came just hours after Niger’s military junta said it wanted French–and only French–airplanes removed from Niger’s air space. It’s unclear whether fighting would’ve broken out if Macron had refused the demand.
France’s history in West Africa
Before France declared it will withdraw all troops from Niger, the former European empire enjoyed influence over West Africa for hundreds of years. Contact in the late 16th century led to participation in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in which the french government brought over a million Africans to its colonies in the Americas.
Even after chattel slavery, France enjoyed direct control of West Africa through colonization beginning at the end of the 19th century, according to the University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center.
By the early 20th century, France’s control over West Africa extended to present-day Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Niger.
By 1960, all former French colonies had gained independence, but the European nation’s influence over West Africa remained substantial from the economy to military cooperation.
Ultimately, Niger faces severe penalties for overthrowing its president and pressuring France to withdraw its troops. European and African nations have placed sanctions on the country.