| 15 July 2024, Monday |

‘France takes us for idiots’ – Inside coup-hit Niger

Niger, a West African country, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for terrorist assaults. Following a military coup in July, there are concerns that a move to withdraw 1,500 French troops from the nation may empower militants.

Mayeni Jones of the BBC secured rare access to Niger and spoke with the administration, its supporters, and those opposed to it.

Zourkaleini, Adama Maiga is a soft-spoken woman with steely drive in her eyes.

The single mother of two lives in a peaceful, middle-class neighborhood of Niamey, but she is originally from Tillabéry, one of Niger’s most violent districts.
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“My mother’s cousin was chief of a village called Téra,” she tells me over lunch. “He was assassinated just seven months ago.

“The terrorists were looking for him and when they found out he’d rented a car to flee, they caught up with him and killed him. They slit his throat. It was a real shock for our whole family.”

Adama blames France – which has had 1,500 troops in the region to fight Islamist militants – for the failure to contain the violence.

“They can’t tell us that the French army was successful,” she says. “I don’t understand how they can say they’re here to help people fight terrorism, and every year the situation gets worse.”

Niger was seen as the last Western ally in the Sahel, this semi-arid region which has become the epicenter of jihadi violence. France and the US each station troops in Niger, which is also home to the US’s biggest drone base.

But when France refused to recognize the new military government here, simmering resentment at perceived French interference in Niger’s internal affairs boiled over.

Many Nigeriens believe France has had privileged access to the country’s political elite and natural resources for too long. They see the coup as a chance for a clean slate, a way to get sovereignty back and be rid of French influence.

“The army has never stayed in power long in Niger,” Adama says, referring to the five coups that have rocked the country since its independence from France in 1960.

“The military will eventually return to their bases and hand over to a better civilian government that will lead Niger to its destiny,” she adds.

The popular anger that followed France’s refusal to accept Niger’s new leadership escalated when the junta asked its troops and ambassador to leave the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron initially refused to comply, but now says he’s decided to agree to the junta’s demands because the Nigerien authorities are “no longer interested in fighting terrorism”.