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‘France Takes Us For Idiots’ – Inside Coup-Hit Niger |

The West African country of Niger is among the world’s most deadly for attacks by jihadists. Following a military coup in July, there are fears a decision to order 1,500 French troops in the country to leave may further embolden insurgents.

The BBC’s Mayeni Jones gained rare access to Niger and spoke to the regime, its supporters and those opposed to it.

Short presentational grey line
Adama Zourkaleini Maiga is soft-spoken, but her eyes suggest steely determination.

The single mother-of-two lives in a quiet, middle-class part of Niger’s capital Niamey, but is originally from Tillabéry, one of the regions worst-hit by violence.

“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 epicentre 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 recognise 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”.

‘France takes us for idiots’

Outside a military base in Niamey housing French troops, hundreds of protesters have been camped out for weeks, stopping supplies from reaching the personnel there.

On Fridays the protesters hold a prayer sit-in. In the scorching midday heat, Imam Abdoulaziz Abdoulaye Amadou advises the crowd to be patient.

“Just as a divorce between a man and a woman takes time, so too will Niger’s divorce from France,” he tells the crowd.

After his sermon, I ask him why, after years of close cooperation, the people of Niger are so angry at the French.

“In the whole of the Sahel, Niger is France’s best partner.” he says. “But it’s France that is now refusing to accept what we want and that’s why there’s tension.

“France could have left quietly after the coup and came back to negotiate with the putschists. Why is Emmanuel Macron now saying he doesn’t recognise our authorities, when he’s accepted coups in other countries like in Gabon and in Chad?

“That’s what has made us angry and we think France takes us for idiots.”

Source: BBC

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