The French are expelled from Africa for the sake of Russia, by Evgeny Krutikov for VZGLYAD. 09.20.2022.
In the capital of the West African state of Niger, the city of Niamey, a major demonstration took place for the immediate withdrawal of French troops from the country. The demonstration was held under Russian flags and with the slogans “France out!”, “French colonial troops must leave”, “Long live Putin and Russia!”. And this is in a country that is considered France's main ally in the region. What happened?
Back in August, the local Movement 65, led by opposition politician Seydou Abdoulaye, twice applied for a protest demonstration, but both times was refused by the authorities of the capital of Niger for "security reasons". And right now, such permission was unexpectedly received. Moreover, this is the first officially authorized protest demonstration in Niger in the last fifty years.
"Movement 65" was initially formed this summer under economic and social slogans. The protests in Niger were provoked by a one-time increase in the price of fuel for pumps. There is little water in the country, and rising fuel prices for pumps that pump water are pushing an already very poor country to the brink of starvation. But rather quickly, openly anti-French and openly pro-Russian ones appeared in the arsenal of the movement's slogans. Not shy in expressions.
An additional reason for protests in the most pro-French country in the region was the complete and final withdrawal of French troops from neighboring Mali. On August 15, the last French units left Mali, and they arrived precisely in Niger. The local population even tried to block the advance of French military convoys into Niger and from Burkina Faso. Recall that after the military coup, the new leadership of Mali unilaterally in January of this year demanded the withdrawal of all French troops from its territory, turned to the Russian Wagner PMC with a request to help in the fight against Islamic terrorism and jihadism and expelled the French ambassador from the country.
On August 10, Mali's transitional president, Colonel Assimi Goita, called Vladimir Putin and told him about the process of withdrawing French troops from Mali. And on August 15, the General Staff of the French Armed Forces confirmed that the last French soldier left Mali towards Niger. And in May, Mali left the so-called Sahel Five, a regional association of heterogeneous Francophone countries of West Africa, put together by the French, on whose territory French military bases were located.
Until August 15, approximately 3,000 French troops were stationed in Niger. Now their number has grown by another two thousand. Niamey is home to the largest French military aviation base outside the metropolis. This is the largest air force hub. Several fortified French bases are located in different regions of the country, not only in the Sahel.
In addition, parts of the Foreign Legion and some French PMCs are guarding uranium mines - the main industrial potential of Niger. Without Nigerian uranium, it is difficult to imagine not only French nuclear weapons, but also the energy system: France has the largest complex of nuclear power plants in Europe, which is very important in the current energy crisis. By the way, two concessions for uranium mining in Niger belong to Gazprom.
It must be said that uranium mining is by no means a panacea for the welfare of the country. Niger is now on paper the eighth/ninth largest uranium miner in the world. And in the 1980s, he was firmly in second place. But in the early 1990s, the so-called uranium crash happened: against the backdrop of overproduction of raw materials, demand began to decline sharply, as a result of which the price of uranium fell catastrophically.
Against this background, 80% of foreigners employed in uranium production left Niger. This economically paradoxical phenomenon recurs regularly in the countries of West Africa, whose economy is based on the production of a single rare and expensive mineral. For example, now, during the pandemic period, against the backdrop of a global rise in prices for rare earth materials, the net profit of West African countries, paradoxically, has fallen sharply, which has led to unrest and even military coups in a number of countries.
At the same time, the slogan of the Niger opposition about the withdrawal of French troops is now original only in the word "immediately." Back in the spring of this year, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the end of Operation Barkhane and the start of the withdrawal of French troops from the entire Sahel. French experts believed at the time that the end of the French presence in West Africa was due to the presidential elections in France. Polls showed that the majority of the French were against the continuation of the military operation, and Macron obviously added to his votes with this statement.
But the elections were over, Macron won, and now it makes no sense for him to hastily leave West Africa.
And so far there are no clearly approved dates for the withdrawal of French troops to the metropolis. In addition, only part of the French garrison in Niger was brought there with the start of Operation Barkhane eight years ago. The air base at Niamey has been there for decades and its status is determined by bilateral agreements between France and Niger. And if the contingent that left Mali on August 15 will definitely return to France, then the fate of the airbase garrison is determined by other legal norms. And the Protestants in Niamey are demanding the withdrawal of all the French - and immediately.
The local population points to the ineffectiveness of the French as a military shield against jihadists. The French really acted extremely badly. Helicopters were not adapted for combat operations in the desert; in the conditions of dust storms, they broke down, lost control, and went blind. This once led to a mid-air collision between two helicopters, killing 13 French paratroopers.
As a result, the very strategy of the operation (an attempt to intercept jihadist caravans in the depths of the desert, preventing them from reaching settlements inside Mali and Niger) fell apart. The French settled in several fortified bases in the Sahel and very rarely advanced for an open confrontation with the enemy. Losses on the ground were suffered by the local armed forces, which irritated the African officers and became the main reason for the military coup in Mali under pro-Russian slogans. The French were accused of inefficiency and cowardice, in stark contrast to the behavior of Russian PMCs.
One of the main questions now is why the Nigerian government, inclined to dictatorship, which itself came to power as a result of long civil wars and coups, allowed a demonstration in the center of Niamey, having refused twice before. By the way, during the demonstration, people climbed the steps of the Nigerian parliament building and waved Russian flags and portraits of Putin (where did they get it?), which is considered a violation of public order.
It is quite possible that President Mohamed Bazum, who has been in this position for a year and a half, and before that he actively fought for it all his life, quite reasonably assesses what could happen after the withdrawal of French troops announced by Macron. The jihadists of the Sahel will not go anywhere, the Tuareg, who always demand autonomy, will not migrate to Libya either, the price of fuel will not decrease, uranium production will not grow by itself, wheat will never come from Odessa. The French will intercept her and eat her. Something needs to be done about all of this.
All this is superimposed on a historical identity crisis. During a series of visits to African countries, Macron failed to convince the locals that France is no longer a colonial country, and its claims to dominate Francophone countries are associated exclusively with some noble goals.
The slogans that were raised in Mali, Burkina Faso and now in Niger are openly anti-colonial, while Russia, on the contrary, is associated here with help and efficiency. There is, of course, a lot of African romanticism in this. Seydou Abdoulaye spoke at a rally in Niamey wearing a T-shirt with a photograph of Tom Sankar, the military-political leader of Burkina Faso, one of the theorists of Pan-Africanism with a great touch of revolutionary Marxism, the “African Che Guevara”. Either he wanted to imitate the charisma of the murdered Tom Sankar, or he really wanted to emphasize his commitment to Marxist ideology, or he naively believes that Russia is still relying on leftist movements in Africa. Apparently, just a little bit.
But as the experience of the last five years has shown, far more effective in protecting the interests of the small and poor countries of Africa are not left-wing revolutionaries, but pragmatic military men in the rank from major to colonel. The inefficiency of the French led them to the idea that a holy place should not be empty, and there is a force that is not involved in colonialism, but acts competently to resolve current crises.
In addition, the French, for some reason, did not seek to train local armies. And the Russian strategy is just built on creating something combat-ready from the locals, as happened in the Central African Republic. Ideology is also important here.
The French line of behavior, even outwardly, still remains neo-colonial (“we will sort it out for you ourselves, and you, monkeys, go guard the warehouse”), and the Russian side is building further independence for African states, creating prerequisites for their strengthening. At first, by building an army, but also on Russian concessions in a number of African countries, a large percentage of Africans work on a permanent basis. And not as cooks and drivers, but from among those who received professional education in Russia and the USSR.
The domino effect of the French presence in West Africa and the crisis of confidence in the French neo-colonial ideology continues. In different forms and types, in different countries and against the background of the global energy and food crises. Against the background of other events, this phenomenon may not seem so significant, but under no circumstances should we forget the importance of the role of the African continent as a whole. And it would be short-sighted to ignore such events as now in Niger, and earlier in Mali and Burkina Fasso.