Paris has ordered the military to begin evacuation of its citizens, as well as other European Union citizens only days after former President Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown by the nation’s military.
“France is preparing the evacuation of its citizens and (other) European citizens who want to leave the country,” the French Foreign Ministry states. Other European countries including Italy and Spain had announced they too will offer their citizens flights out of Niger.
?????| The first French nationals are welcomed at Niamey airport by French forces.
They are currently being asked to be at the airport by 2pm (local time). At the same time, the first French aircraft (at least one C-130 and one A330) have just landed at Niamey airport.
— Casus Belli (@casusbellii) August 1, 2023
“Considering the ongoing coup in Niger and the fact that the situation continues to be worrying, we decided to make sure that the French citizens who want to leave Niger can do so,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said to French media.
French aircraft are expected to arrive at the Nigerien capital of Niamey on Tuesday, reportedly consisting of 1 French Air Forces C-150 military cargo airplane and 1 Airbus A330 possibly of government service or charter.
This comes after a military coup overthrew the former President and General Abdourahmane “Omar” Tchiani establishing himself as the new national leader. The number of European civilians in the country is not known exactly but is estimated to be 70 Spanish citizens, approximately 100 Germans, and at least 600 French nationals, according to various media reports.
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union, and the United States have all made demands that the former President be restored to power. ECOWAS has leveled sanctions against Niger, as well as threatening military force if the former leader was not in power by next week, with Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea backing Niger in its stance.
Niger has had a troubled history since its independence from France in 1960, largely being under various military-led governments. Since Bazoum came to power in 2020, the former leader has face 2 separate coup attempts, as well as anti-government insurgents, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State extremists.
French, German, and United States military personnel have assisted Nigerien security forces with combating this threat. However, a growing popular movement has demanded that these troops leave and let the nation deal with its internal security issues itself. All three nations have not made statements about the possible removal of these military detachments despite the civilian evacuation.
French Foreign Minister Colonna said that the riots outside the French embassy in Niamey were influenced by Russia, adding it had “all the usual ingredients of destabilization, the Russian-African way”. Wagner PMC has been operating in the Sahel for years, but is not know to be involved in the recent coup.
The Bigger Picture:
As more European powers pull their influence from the region, it leaves a foreign policy vacuum likely to be filled by Russia. The Kremlin has long been involved in both overt and covert operation in Western Africa. With the new military junta in Niamey openly promulgating a pro-Russian stance, it is likely that Moscow will seize the opportunity to embolden the new government.
Additionally, the evacuation of European civilians may signal that EU nation’s are wary of a larger regional conflict. As Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea back Niger in the face of ECOWAS threats of military force, the western portion of the African continent faces a spiraling destabilization that could result in further violence and bloodshed. This destabilization not only allows other insurgent and Islamic extremist groups further room to grow, but potentially an environment in which to thrive.