Reading Time: 5 mins read
French President Emmanuel Macron loves acting on the world stage. In the on-going drama about the West and some West African leaders threatening to use force against the military regime that came to power in Niger Republic on 26 July, he chose to play the outlaw.
Exactly a month after they came to power, the new authorities in Niger declared French Ambassador Sylvain Itte persona non grata, saying that he “no longer enjoys the privileges and immunities attached to his status as a member of the diplomatic staff of the embassy.” He was given 48 hours to leave the country. The deadline expired on 28 August. The Nigeriens also withdrew the diplomatic cards and cancelled the visas of his family.
But Macron sent a counter-order, directing Ambassador Itte to defy the order and refuse to leave the country.
The 64-year-old Itte, who was born in Bamako, Mali, as an experienced ambassador having served as ambassador in Uruguay for three years from 2016, Angola for four years until 2020, before being sent to Niger Republic in October, 2022, knew once expelled he had to leave the country.
He doubtlessly would be conversant with Article 9 of the 1961 Vienna Treaty on Diplomatic Relations, which states that: “The receiving state may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending state that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. In any such case, the sending state shall, as appropriate, either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission.”
So he knows that he cannot play the outlaw, but that role is what his principal, President Macron, asked him to play. Consequently, the poor ambassador sat put in the embassy, which became a type of prison, as neither he nor his fellow diplomats could leave and return to the embassy. While the French diplomats were holed up, Nigeriens who were in support of their country’s government, converged daily with a public address system in front of the embassy, singing, dancing and chanting: “Down with France!” In Macron’s unique mind, this was an indication that Itte and the embassy staff are “being held hostage”. This is wrong because an hostage is a person seized by an abductor; in this case, nobody seized the French.
Macron had also rejected the expulsion of I,500 French soldiers from Niger, on the same laughable basis that France does not accept the new rulers in that country and that only ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, whom he described as the “sole legitimate authority” in Niger Republic, could order the French out. As a claimed democrat who believes in democracy, how can Macron claim a single individual is the “sole legitimate authority” in a country?
In response, the Nigerien government said its diplomatic victory over France is “a new step towards sovereignty” and insisted that the pull-out of the French military “must be set out in a negotiated framework and by mutual agreement”. This, of course, is the correct way countries should relate, rather than one country assuming to be the master of another and thinking it can continuously dictate terms to the other.
Macron might have thought that he could hold out in Niger, as there was an expected military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However, that invasion did not materialise, as the African people were clearly against the blood of fellow Africans being shed. In any case, what gives France the impression that it has a right to determine the leadership of any African country?
France might also have thought that the incensed Nigerien populace would storm its embassy or military base and thus give it an excuse to invade the country in the guise of protecting or saving French lives. But the Nigeriens were wiser, they rather elected to wear out the ambassador and his team.
Finally, one month after refusing to leave the embassy, the ambassador and six others, with their tails between their legs, left, defeated, arriving in Paris on Wednesday, 27 September. It reminded me of the French Army in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam, which after 57 days of being besieged, threw in the towel on 7 May, 1954.
The French, having finally succumbed, tried to put up a bold face when Itte arrived. He was received by Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who purported “to thank him and his teams for his work in the service of our country under difficult conditions.”
Reacting to the French ambassador’s forced departure, a Nigerien who spoke the minds of the majority of the people said: “Today is a very proud day for me, and especially for the Nigerien people, hearing of the French ambassador’s departure, who stubbornly stayed in Niger to show that the new government was not a real authority. But today, he saw that Niger was not a little country.”
Macron, who announced the recall of Ambassador Itte in his Sunday TV interview, also declared that French troops would be withdrawn from the African country in “the months and weeks to come”, with a full pull-out “by the end of the year.”
He cheekily added that the Nigerien government “no longer wanted to fight against terrorism”. This once again, is a manifestation of the presumptuous character of President Macron: that only the French can fight terrorism; so asking the French forces to leave means the African country has accepted terrorism and is no longer interested in fighting the scourge.
France, with a beautiful cultural history, is known to be quite fastidious and tricky in foreign relations, refusing to stop its exploitation of other peoples. This it has done for centuries. So, although it seems diplomatically defeated in its stand-off with Niger, it cannot be trusted to truly depart.
France cannot live a healthy life without nakedly exploiting other peoples, so it is likely to fight back. This is why I was not surprised by Tuesday’s attempted coup in Burkina Faso against its anti-French government.
By the way, we shouldn’t forget that it is not only France that has military presence in Niger Republic. The United States (US) maintains some 1,100 military personnel there. Although it has not been as noisy as France, yet it remains in that country, despite the demands of Nigerien that the soldiers should be pulled out. It is only in the light of the announced decision of France to pull out its unwelcome troops, that the US says it will “evaluate” its future in the small African country.
But like France, Nigeriens and Africans should not assume that they would pull out quietly and stop meddling in African affairs.
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