As people poured onto the streets of Niamey to show their support for the coup that toppled Niger’s civilian government last month, one handwritten sign on a piece of cardboard read: “France must leave.”
Unlike other colonial powers such as Britain, who hastily relinquished their former dominance in Africa, France remained where it was.
Either through what it calls the post-colonial school (it has done damage and paid for it), or through a perpetual ambition to control and profit from its former colonies, France continues to hover like a ghost, says a report by the British Financial Times.
For more than 60 years, Paris has intervened in politics and business on the continent in a manner convenient to it. French officials had hotlines to contact their favorite bosses, and French companies struck lucrative contracts.
14 countries in West and Central Africa, including Niger, have adopted the “CFA franc” currency, guaranteed by Paris. This stabilized the exchange rate, which the former British colonies looked upon with envy. But it also suits French investors who bring their profits home, as well as African elites who are accustomed to buying French luxuries purchased with hard currency.
France has always been ready for military intervention, sending soldiers to Côte d’Ivoire when civil war broke out in 2002, and intervening again in 2011 when Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power.
It has sent troops to the Central African Republic seven times since independence.
And in 2013, the French air force helped drive out Islamist militants in northern Mali who were threatening to march into Bamako.
Whatever France’s motives for this stifling presence, it is an unsuccessful one, says the Financial Times. In most of its 20 former African colonies, intellectuals and street protesters alike share a hatred of France, viewing it as the cause of all their problems. Senegalese activists burned the CFA franc and attacked petrol stations and French-owned shops. And in Mali, people celebrated last year when its new military regime expelled French forces.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to reshape the relationship made no difference. Macron opened up the archives of French history, brought back looted art from across the continent, and made important, if symbolic, changes to the CFA franc system.
Anti-French sentiment ran high, and Macron was criticized for hypocrisy, preaching democracy but attending the funeral of France’s favorite military leader, Chadian President Chad Déby.
France’s loss was Russia’s gain. When French soldiers failed to put down an insurrection in the Central African Republic, President Faustin-Archange Touadera turned to Wagner’s mercenaries. Yevgeny Prigozhin’s men now run everything from the gold mines to the Touadéra agenda, and the generals in Mali asked Wagner for help after ousting what its prime minister called the “French junta”. This slow humiliation of France was beneficial to Russia.
France has had very limited success in combating armed groups. Islamic ideology has momentum in very poor countries rife with ethnic grievances, poor pro-Western governments and no tax revenues.
But the military regimes in Mali and Burkina Faso, with or without Wagner’s help, fared no better. With their loss of control over large swathes of territory, militant movements are closing in in the Sahel region.
With the fall of the civil government in Niger, France’s defeat in the Sahel region was almost complete. It seems that the days of its military base in Niamey, with soldiers and combat and drones, are numbered.
Some of the military governments have Russian leanings and all have mutiny problems, now stretching 3,500 miles in a straight line from coast to coast.