Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu
The Aftermath of a Military Coup and Anti-French Sentiment in Niger
Anti-French sentiment in Niger can be understood with the following sequence of events – It was the 30th of July, 2023, just a few weeks after a military coup had taken place in Niger. Nigeriens participated in a march called by supporters of coup leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani in Niamey, Niger. Supporters of the military gathered outside the French Embassy, numbering in the hundreds, ignited a fire at the embassy’s entrance and set ablaze the French flag. Meanwhile, back in Paris, President Emmanuel Macron was deeply concerned. He swiftly ordered a complete evacuation of around 600 French nationals who resided in the country. This military coup not only exhibited a stance against democracy but also held an anti-French sentiment. All symbols associated with France, including their embassy, flag, and military base, had been targeted. This raises the question: why is there such animosity directed specifically towards France, as opposed to other nations?
The Historical Context: Colonization and Influence
To unravel this, one must delve into the history of Nigeria and the broader context of West Africa. Nigeria’s history dates back to colonization by France during the late 19th century. While many regions gained independence following World War II, France’s influence and presence in West Africa persisted. This phenomenon, intertwined with the history of the entire region, sheds light on the animosity that exists today.
Exploring the Historical Roots: From Slave Trade to Colonization
To better understand this complex history, let’s take a step back. Our journey begins in the 16th century when France first showed interest in Africa, largely driven by the slave trade. Becoming one of the largest slave-trading nations, France transported around 1.3 million Africans to their colonies in the Americas. Tragically, about 200,000 individuals lost their lives during this voyage. As the slave trade expanded, France sought ports, leading to the establishment of Saint Louis in Senegal in 1659.
For a significant period, France’s interests in Africa were confined to coastal regions. However, in the 19th century, this began to change due to domestic rivalries within Europe and the need for resources to fuel expanding industries. This shift marked the start of the European “Scramble for Africa,” characterized by territorial acquisitions across the continent. The Berlin Conference of 1885 formalized this scramble, resulting in the colonization of a vast majority of Africa. Niger was not exempt from this process, as two French officers embarked on an expedition to explore and claim the region in 1899.
The Legacy of Brutal Colonization
Captain Paul Voulet and his second-in-command, Julien Chanoine, led this mission. Their violent and brutal actions during this expedition exemplified one of the most notorious episodes in colonial history. Voulet’s tactics, marked by massacres and terror, left a trail of devastation. Eventually, both Voulet and Chanoine were killed by their own soldiers, but their mission left an indelible mark on the region.
France’s colonization strategy in West Africa revolved around brute force and crackdowns on rebellions. Throughout the early decades of colonization, France faced several uprisings, all of which were ruthlessly suppressed. The French utilized these harsh measures to maintain control over their colonies, often through french military intervention and suppression of local dissent. Decades after independence, many African countries are increasingly troubled by the ongoing influence of their former colonial power.
Quest for Independence and Lingering Influence
By the mid-20th century, calls for independence gained momentum across West Africa, including Niger. In 1958, a constitutional referendum provided an opportunity for colonies to choose their relationship with France. In Niger, a significant majority voted to remain in the French Community. While independence was eventually granted in 1960, France’s influence persisted through a complex web of networks and policies.
The Controversy of Franc Zone and Modern Influences
One notable aspect of France’s influence was the creation of the Franc Zone, a monetary arrangement where West African countries deposited reserves in the French treasury in exchange for using the CFA Franc. This currency pegged to the euro has been both praised for bringing stability and criticized for perpetuating colonial legacies.
President Macron’s foreign policy initiatives have aimed to reshape France’s role in the world. While his intentions might not have been to dismantle Francafrique—the term used to describe French influence in Africa—his presidency has seen shifts in several West African countries distancing themselves from such influence. Mali, Burkina Faso, and now Niger have demonstrated moves away from this historic relationship.
Like recent coups in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali, last week’s military takeover in Niger came amid a growing wave of anti-French sentiment with some locals accusing the former colonial ruler of interfering in their affairs. Tense Atmosphere in Sahel region as Neighbors Warn Against Military Intervention in Niger.
Conclusion: Complex Narratives and Shifting Dynamics
In summary, the animosity towards France in Niger is rooted in a complex historical narrative of colonization, exploitation, and post-colonial policies. While this doesn’t excuse a military coup, it provides context to the sentiments and motivations behind anti-French sentiment. Macron’s presidency could inadvertently contribute to reshaping France’s role in West Africa, potentially altering the legacy of Francafrique. The historical echoes of colonization continue to shape contemporary relations, urging nations to reconcile past injustices while moving forward toward a more equitable future.