Agence France-Presse On September 24, President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of 1,500 French soldiers from Niger by the end of the year and the return to Paris of the ambassador to Niamey, Sylvain Itté , two demands of the military in power.
The information could have gone unnoticed. Last week, between an announcement on the price of fuel and another on gas boilers, French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed that France would withdraw its troops from Niger by the end of the year. The decision ends two months of standoff since the July 26 military coup that removed President Mohamed Bazoum. With Paris refusing to recognize the new power, the French ambassador in Niamey, Sylvain Itté, was reduced to living cloistered in the embassy and subsisting on military rations.
How did we get to this point? ? “Normally, this is the kind of decision that we announce after a Defense Council,” says Antoine Glaser. Macron tried to minimize Niger's withdrawal, but it was a lost bet. »
A double failure
Author, with Pascal Airault, of Macron’s African Trap(Pluriel editions), Antoine Glaser is convinced that this catastrophic departure represents a double failure. “The first is to have supported Bazoum until the end, believing that Nigeria, which considers Niger as its backyard, was going to intervene with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ). The second is not having understood that his own allies were no longer following him. »
In fact, believes the founder ofLa Lettre du Continent, the French military presence in this region has long become an anachronism. “France still believed itself to be in the era of the Cold War, when it was acting as a policeman in Africa,” he says. She did not see the globalization of Africa coming and she continued to believe that she was at home there. »
What Paris did not see coming was above all the irruption of China, says Glaser. Today, the Chinese control around 20% of the economy of this former French backyard that represents French-speaking Africa, while France only represents 4.2%. Everyone picked up their marbles, the Americans investing 100 million euros in their Agadez air base to monitor the Chinese. “No one needs France anymore. »
The era is over when, at the end of the Cold War, France controlled the markets and the CFA franc, trained the African military and co-opted the leaders. In 1980, there were still 50,000 French people in Abidjan, recalls Antoine Glaser. “All that is gone. We are experiencing the end of an era. Today, reality comes back to us like a boomerang. »
Does this mean that once the French soldiers return home, the Sahel will be abandoned to the jihadists? “Actually, they’ve already won,” Glaser said. The Islamization of this region is only a return of history. Not to mention that it has never really been proven that it represented a real danger of Islamist attacks in Europe. »
In recent years, the Sahel has become a geostrategic issue for its raw materials. Less for its oil than for its rare earths. China, which no longer wants to export its own, will source its supplies from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), explains the researcher. This is also why the Americans are eyeing the Central African Republic.
In this rivalry, Glaser says, the Russians and Chinese seem to go hand in hand. “I don’t know if they consult each other, but, structurally, we see that everyone has their market share. The Russians are in arms, security and a certain number of raw materials. The Chinese are in major infrastructure. Everyone goes to do their shopping in Africa. »
The end of the Francophonie?
Does this rejection of France in a large number of French-speaking African countries, and particularly among African youth, sign the end of the Francophonie? To clearly mark their distance, last year, Gabon and Togo entered the Commonwealth, where they joined Rwanda, recalls Glaser. In countries like Senegal, we see national languages, like Wolof, progressing. Hasn't Algeria, the third French-speaking country in the world behind France and the DRC, just banned 22 private schools from teaching in French, even within the framework of a French Arabic school program?
“One way or another, the Francophonie will suffer from this anti-French backlash,” says Glaser. We cannot say that this will not affect the International Organization of La Francophonie, where Macron also appointed Rwandan Louise Mushikiwabo for the sole purpose of reconciling with Rwanda. »
It must be said that when Emmanuel Macron became president, he did not know much about French-speaking Africa. He himself had instead chosen to do a two-month internship in Nigeria, the largest country in English-speaking Africa. At the ENA, his promotion nevertheless bore the name of one of the fathers of the French-speaking world: Léopold Sédar Senghor. One of his classmates, Jules-Armand Aniambossou, is today ambassador to Ghana. Another, Franck Paris, was appointed to Taiwan after having been its Africa advisor. As for Aurélien Lechevallier, he is currently Director General of Globalization at the Quai d’Orsay.
“This team of friends who played football together,” says Glaser, “absolutely wanted to get out of the French field. Emmanuel Macron's idea in 2017 was to draw a line under this entire period. He did not understand that, as the saying goes, “everything passes except the past”. »
After having shunned French-speaking Africa during his first term, the president was overtaken by realpolitik during the second. In Chad, the French military pushed him to support Mahamat Idriss Déby so that he could succeed his father. After the invasion of Ukraine, Macron will lecture the heads of state of Cameroon, Congo and Gabon, who do not denounce Russia. Which will not prevent Cameroonian Paul Biya, at the age of 90, from going to shake hands with Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg as soon as Macron leaves.
“And when Macron lectures the African heads of state, he does it the old-fashioned way, exactly like his predecessors, says Glaser. This is what caused anti-French sentiment to rise. Let us remember that in 2050, one in four men will be African. France will have no choice but to escape from this anachronism. She will have to change software. »