Niger’s military rulers issued an ultimatum on Friday 25th August, for the French Ambassador, Sylvin Itté, to leave Niger within 48 hours. The announcement was accompanied by a growing swell of civil society support calling for the 1500 French soldiers based in Niger, as part of France’s Sahel operations, to be also removed from the country within the same deadline.

Actions ‘contrary to the interests of Niger’

Niger’s newly appointed Foreign Minister, declared that the decision to expel the French Ambassador was based on actions taken by France which he argued, were ‘contrary to the interests of Niger’. He was clearly making reference to the French envoy’s refusal to meet with him as the Niger’s new Foreign Minister. It is also possible that the move was inspired by the knowledge that Algeria has recently refused a request for France to use its airspace in the event of a conflict.

‘All the villages, all the surrounding communes will descend on the capital and we will get them out’

The civil society umbrella organisation M62, which was set up in 2022, is one of the leading movements in Niger, involved in stirring up a wave of anti-French sentiment in the country. Abdoulaye Seydou, the National Coordinator of M62, has been outspoken in rallying Niger’s citizens to take to the streets in protest, to ensure that French troops no longer remain in Niger’s capital, Niamey, after the deadline expires. He said:

“We won’t give the French forces one second on our territory once this deadline has expired, as the CNSP itself has made clear. All the villages, all the surrounding communes will descend on the capital and we will get them out. They will leave Niamey. They’re saying they’re in Niger, they’re not going to leave … but they’re going to leave.” 

The French government were quick to reject the demand for their Ambassador to be removed, stating that they do not recognise the authority of those issuing the demand. They also rejected earlier revocations of the standing military agreements and cooperation between Niger’s and France’s military forces. The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying:

‘The putschists do not have the authority to make this request, the ambassador’s approval coming solely from the legitimate elected Nigerien authorities’

Thousands of supporters gather in the town centre and in the city’s main stadium

As the announcement of the ultimatum was made, 100’s of protesters descended upon the French army base at Diori Hamani, chanting demands for the French troops to immediately withdraw from the country. The numbers of protesters increased over the weekend adding to their proclamations against the French presence, with chants condemning the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas)’s threat to invade.   Thousands of supporters of the overthrow, also gathered in the centre of the capital, Niamey. Tens of thousands more gathered in the main Seyni Kountche stadium, chanting anti-French sentiments, adorned in Niger’s national colours, while trumpeting vuvuzelas.

The move to clear the French from Niger bears all the hallmarks of the actions taken by both Mali and Burkina Faso post their respective military overthrows months earlier, both of whom ejected French forces and then ripped up all standing agreements and ties.

Niger’s troops on maximum alert

As the deadline passes, Niger’s new leadership has ordered its armed forces to be on maximum alert on the assumption of an imminent attack. Details have emerged of an internal document which requires the army to be prepared to respond to any attack and to ‘avoid a general surprise’.

The President of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Alieu Touray, issued a statement on Friday following the announcement of the Niger leadership, in an effort to downplay suggestions of an imminent invasion. He said:

‘For the avoidance of doubt, let me state unequivocally that ECOWAS has neither declared war on the people of Niger, nor is there a plan, as it is being purported, to invade the country’


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