With his prayer mat, and above all the essential “tea to get through the night”… That night, Oumarou Harouna stayed up until 3 a.m. at the Escadrille roundabout on the road to the airport, hoping finally seeing the ballet of cars of the French ambassador and his escort leave. It is now done. “I am relieved and proud, we have won a first battle! “, jubilant the activist, who nevertheless intends to camp in front of the Niamey air base until “the last French soldier leaves” his country.
After a month of standoff with Paris, the junta and its supporters obtained the repatriation of its ambassador Sylvain Itté and the withdrawal “by the end of the year” of the 1,500 tricolor soldiers deployed in Niger in the fight anti-jihadist, marking the end of ten years of French military presence in the Sahel. Designated persona non grata by the putschists and deprived of his diplomatic immunity, Sylvain Itté had lived in seclusion in the embassy since the coup d’état at the end of July. In recent weeks, the military in power had increased their pressure on the enclave by preventing the supply of water and food.
Day and night relay
In front of Air Base 101, the mobilization continues. Nigerien soldiers have set up a few tents and camp beds, while nearby their supporters take turns day and night to hold the street. On a podium, a marabout galvanizes the demonstrators by cursing France. Children from the neighborhood come to enjoy the party and the food dishes distributed by the organizers, who call for the “sit-in” to continue until the French forces leave.
At the start of the week, the M62, spearhead of the demonstrations, rejoiced at a “stage victory” and called for a break in “all diplomatic and economic relations” with France. The terrorist threat in the Sahel, endemic poverty, corruption… Oumarou Harouna, an M62 activist, accuses the former colonial power of all the ills of his country. “We have been independent for more than sixty years but it continues to interfere in our affairs, we want a partner who respects us and gets us out of poverty,” insists the latter. Disappointed by France, he now wants to turn to Russia, like the junta in Mali, where the authorities called on the mercenaries of the Wagner group to fight against terrorism, at the cost of numerous abuses against civilians.
Other more discreet voices
In Niamey, while the sovereignists exult and the orange, white and green flags of Niger flourish on every street corner, other more discreet voices worry, under cover of anonymity, about the arrival of the military in power and the push towards the exit of French forces. “We will have to fill the void, while the authorities are put in place, the terrorists risk taking advantage of it,” regrets a breeder from the Dosso region, in the southwest of the country, prey to jihadist attacks.
In recent weeks, Niger has faced an increase in violence, mainly in the “three borders” area, shared with Mali and Burkina Faso. French soldiers were carrying out joint operations there alongside the Nigeriens which were suspended after the coup. With this breeder, the fear of the military is only mentioned in whispers. “We were already stigmatized, in certain villages the soldiers arrested all those who looked like terrorists or worse killed them, I am afraid that with them, if they toughen up their operations, it would be worse,” breathes this man.