Standoff in Africa Could Explode

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Following the July coup d’état, the Nigerian junta has been at a standoff with neighboring ECOWAS and Western forces. France in particular was accused of reinforcing its current bases to prepare for regime change.

France has maintained forces in Niger for years, part of its broader influence among former colonies. France24 reports:

“France continues to deploy its forces in several ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries as part of preparations for an aggression against Niger, which it is planning in collaboration with this community organisation,” Niger’s regime spokesman Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane said on Saturday.

The Sahel state is also embroiled in a standoff with the West African bloc ECOWAS, which has threatened to intervene militarily if diplomatic pressure to return Bazoum to office fails.

French and American forces in Niger and neighboring states have been essential in the fight against ISIS. Part of the reason for the military junta’s strength and popularity is due to its continued operations against terrorists in the Sahel. The Wall Street Journal continues:

A withdrawal of French troops from Niger would deliver a blow to Western efforts to fight Islamist insurgents in the Sahel, the semiarid belt running along the southern edge of the Sahara. U.S. and European governments had worked closely with Niger President Mohamed Bazoum in the fight against al Qaeda and Islamic State militants in the region. 

Talk of a French exit is also a sign of France’s diminishing influence as West Africa’s regional cop. Mali and Burkina Faso have already kicked out French and other Western forces. That initially made Niger an even more pivotal ally as more French forces were shifted to bases there.

Following the coups in neighboring states, Niger was one of France’s last remaining outposts in the region. The even more recent coup in Gabon, where France also maintains troops, could also lead to further expulsions. Whether other powers like China and Russia are capable and willing to step in to fill the vacuum is another matter.

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