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Thursday, December 7, 2023

France deserted by its allies in Niger

US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s shock go to to Niamey on August 6, 2023 marks a turning level within the Niger disaster. The US took cost and marginalized France. Learn the evaluation by Leslie Varenne, Director of the Institut de veille et d’étude des relations internationales et stratégiques (IVERIS).

The disaster in Niger is dominating the information in the summertime of 2023. The ECOWAS summit in Abuja on August 10 was one of many highlights, placing army intervention again on the agenda simply because it gave the impression to be receding. The truth is, by underlining in its communiqué “its willpower to maintain all choices open for a peaceable decision of the disaster”, whereas ordering “the deployment of the standby power”, the sub-regional group tried to please everybody: the hard-line camp, led primarily by France, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, and the extra quite a few camp advocating dialogue. However what is going to occur? It’s arduous to say at this stage, given the shifting sands. One factor is for certain, nonetheless: the shock go to of Victoria Nuland, Appearing Assistant Secretary of State, to Niamey on August 6 marked a decisive turning level. The ball is now within the American court docket, which is ignoring the agitation in Paris.

The girl with the buns is again in enterprise…

To understand the significance of this go to and the messages it despatched out, a short assessment of the profession of this American diplomatic heavyweight is so as. Since 1993, this non secular daughter of Madeleine Albright has held numerous positions within the Bush and Obama administrations, together with that of spokesperson for Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, between 2010 and 2013. A interval when the USA and its allies had outdone themselves with the wars in Syria, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and the “Arab springs”. However this determine of the neoconservative motion achieved international notoriety by organizing regime change in Kiev in 2014. The pictures of Victoria Nuland handing out bread rolls whereas haranguing the demonstrators on Maïdan Sq. go down in historical past. Her well-known “Fuck the EU” pronounced on the similar time throughout a dialog with the American ambassador to Ukraine, an alternate maliciously recorded and leaked, additionally sticks to her pores and skin.

Extra aware of the European continent, she has nonetheless taken African affairs in hand. In 2021, she toured a number of East African international locations and Niger. In October 2022, she visited Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. She has simply accomplished a brand new street present that took her from Pretoria, just a few days earlier than the BRICS summit, to Kinshasa, through Abidjan, lastly touchdown in Niamey on August 6.

“F…okay France”

American activism in Niger comes as no shock, given their strategic pursuits within the nation. Nevertheless, Victoria Nuland’s go to to Niamey, which was not on her agenda, took everybody unexpectedly. A number of days earlier, Catherine Colonna had prided herself on being on the identical wavelength as Washington, however apparently the sensation wasn’t mutual. By sitting and speaking for 2 hours on the army desk, Victoria Nuland signaled to Paris that she was taking the lead. Within the diplomat’s flowery language, this might be summed up as follows: “We are able to’t let the frog-eaters deal with this, they’re going to carry us Wagner! !

The second message despatched to the Elysée Palace and to the ECOWAS hardliners who had been making ready to make use of the arduous means: we want dialogue. On this, the Appearing Secretary of State reiterated the place of Anthony Blinken, who on August 2 agreed with the Chairman of the African Union, Moussa Faki, that “there isn’t any acceptable army resolution” to the disaster in Niger.

Make no mistake, the Biden administration just isn’t affected by a sudden bout of pacifism. With the 2024 presidential election simply months away, they merely can’t threat supporting a brand new battle. They’re slowed down in Ukraine, the place the counter-offensive is faltering, whereas their help for Kiev is turning into more and more unpopular at house. They’re additionally in a fragile place in Syria and within the Strait of Hormuz, dealing with Iran, the place the US Navy has simply deployed 3,000 males. In the meantime, tensions persist within the China Sea.

Rome and Berlin, each with a army presence in Niger, have rallied to the American place. Because the departure of French troops from Mali, each capitals have sought to distance themselves from Paris on African points, to keep away from being contaminated by the outcry towards French coverage. Whereas Germany was sober in its assertion that it “favors mediation”, Italy couldn’t resist taking a swipe at France. In an interview with La Stampa, Overseas Minister Antonio Tajani declared: “Europe can not afford an armed confrontation, we should not be seen as new colonizers. Quite the opposite, we should create a brand new alliance with African international locations, one that isn’t based mostly on exploitation. We should postpone the choice of struggle so long as attainable.”

Nuland forgets to say…France

It’s attention-grabbing to notice that none of France’s allies has expressed an opinion on the departure of French troops requested by the ruling army in Niamey. Not a single one took up Paris’s argument that the choice was illegitimate. Nor had been there any main statements on France’s position within the combat towards terrorism, the safety of Europe’s southern border or immigration – all arguments which were put ahead for years by its allies.

Because the icing on the cake, when requested about Niger by Ivorian public tv throughout her go to to Abidjan, Victoria Nuland declared “our place is identical as that of Côte d’Ivoire, ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union”… Oops… she didn’t point out France, which may solely be an oversight…

Niger's location in West Africa (Google maps)
Niger’s location in West Africa (Google maps)

The ball in Niger’s court docket…

All these causes militate in favor of non-intervention. For no deployment of the ECOWAS standby power can happen with out, on the very least, logistical help, air help and satellite tv for pc intelligence from France and the USA. Besides, in fact, that the Niger army should even be taken under consideration. Will they settle for American circumstances? That is THE query that can decide the result.

Whereas nobody is within the know in regards to the content material of Victoria Nuland’s two-hour assembly with junta representatives, the State Division’s minutes point out two important factors: the reassurance that the USA will hold its army bases and shut the door on Wagner. Importantly, at no level was there any query of “reinstalling the democratically elected President”, Mohamed Bazoum, as he’s now recognized. Nonetheless based on the doc, she had “a frank and tough dialogue” with Moussa Salaou Barmou, “their man”, “their asset” inside the junta, because the prolonged WSJ article specifically devoted to him factors out. “Barmou has develop into the primary diplomatic channel between the USA and the junta. The one who will have the ability to “assist carry this affair to a tender touchdown”. But when Barmou is their “man”, he’s at first Nigerian, and he’s not alone. Given the mounting stress, plainly Victoria Nuland has not obtained agency assurances on these two particular factors. In response to a safety supply in Niamey, the CNSP (Conseil nationwide pour la sauvegarde de la patrie, a physique created by the ruling army) is on a “neither facet nor the opposite” line…

Within the meantime, negotiations proceed on all fronts. On August 10, the Algerian Overseas Minister was in Washington for talks with the long run Beneath Secretary of Protection, Derek Chollet. In response to the press launch, the 2 mentioned “developments within the disaster in Niger and methods to coordinate the 2 international locations’ efforts to strengthen the possibilities for a peaceable decision of the disaster.” A gathering and a bit of phrase that talk volumes about France’s position in resolving the disaster…

Paris persists

After the ECOWAS assembly, and whereas some had been in search of “a peaceable settlement”, the Quai d’Orsay, via the voice of Catherine Colonna, took a tough line. The Minister of Overseas Affairs helps “all of the conclusions adopted” on the Summit, “together with the choice to activate the deployment of the standby power”. In brief, we’re prepared to supply army help, we’re prepared for struggle…

Because the begin of the disaster on July 26, the Elysée and the Quai have opted for each regrettable resolution. And the record is lengthy. Choosing strong-arm techniques as a substitute of mediation within the present West African context; displaying their muscle groups on the threat of pouring oil on a Continent already red-hot towards French coverage; attempting to repeat the Ivorian situation by taking part in on the 2 entities, the professional authorities and the putschists, with out realizing that the world has modified since 2011; endorsing via the media a pseudo-rebellion: the Conseil de la Résistance pour la République is a dropping enterprise. Headed by former insurgent Rhissa Ag Boula, lengthy laundered below the gold of the Republic, the CRR has no probability of prospering. Coloring Ouagadougou, Bamako and Niamey pink in a single day on the Quai d’Orsay’s safety maps, thereby banning Air France planes from touchdown, does nothing to ease the stress; nor does the closure of visa workplaces in Mali and Burkina Faso. All these selections had been instantly adopted by reciprocal measures.

Bonus: by doing so, Paris makes the USA appear to be the nice guys within the story, which isn’t with out its spice.

Nobody is speeding to comply with France’s lead, and all are silent in mocking silence. Envisioning a situation wherein the USA, Germany and Italy keep in Niger and Paris is compelled to pack up, one African diplomat thunders: “It could be Trafalgar and Fachoda! No much less…

Leslie Varenne
Director, Institut de veille et d’étude des relations internationales et stratégiques

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