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A visit to Florence Parly in Niger, what for?

Florence Parly Niger

The French Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, has been in Niger since Wednesday. She will meet, in Niamey, President Mohamed Bazoum. At the center of the discussions, "the evolution of the Barkhane system in the Sahel".

Has Operation Barkhane run out of host countries? As French forces are gradually being driven out of Mali, and some complications are looming between Paris and Ouagadougou following the recent coup in Burkina Faso, the French Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly put down her suitcases in Niger yesterday.

The French Ministry of the Armed Forces announced on the evening of February 2 that the minister would discuss with Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum "the evolution of the French military system in the Sahel". Discussions which are imminent following the refusal of the Malian authorities to deploy a Norwegian contingent of Takuba in the country. A rise in tensions between Bamako and Paris followed.

At the same time, the recent coup in Burkina Faso is, in particular, heralding the end of military cooperation between France – and Europe in general – and Ouagadougou.

As they accumulate factors unfavorable to the continuity of the French military presence in the Sahel, France sees, not only, its plan of “Europeanization of the fight against terrorism”, namely to replace Barkhane by Takuba, bogged down. Because concretely, the French military presence undergoes a total rejection in the Sahel, on the part of the Malian power in this case.

Mohamed Bazoum, vassal of France?

In this context, France can now already turn to its last Sahelian ally, the President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum. Often accused of being the vassal of France, the Nigerien president will undoubtedly go in the direction of the French minister. The heads of state of the region are overthrown one after the other. Bazoum, for his part, has already suffered a coup attempt at the start of his mandate.

As the coup in Burkina Faso unfolded between January 23 and 24, Bazoum feared he would suffer the same fate as Roch Kaboré. He had, according to a source from the Nigerien presidency, left the presidential palace in Niamey and had settled in his private residence in the north of the capital, surrounded by elements of the special forces handpicked.

Thus, the president of Niger fears for the fate of his presidency. A year has almost passed since the inauguration of Mohamed Bazoum, and in addition to his numerous statements in which he tackles the soldiers of the Sahel countries, or thanks France for its "continuous support", the governance of Bazoum is more than doubtful. .

On the security side, Niger is more than ever paralyzed by the terrorist threat, especially in the north and west of the country. Economically, the "take-off" promised by Bazoum is still long overdue. And diplomatically, the Nigerien president pursues an agenda of followership, far from being popular today, beyond its relevance.

A conditioned commitment

On the French side, Florence Parly's visit to Niamey mainly concerns obtaining insurance in the event that Barkhane finds himself kicked out of Mali. A possibility that is further confirmed following the dismissal, by Bamako, of the French ambassador to Mali.

The former colonial empire now has more than 5 soldiers in Mali, who are no longer welcome. For the State, as for the populations, the French intervention in Mali was, to say the least, ineffective, even counterproductive. The Malian government, for several reasons, is now seeking to build new military cooperation, particularly with Russia, France's rival country.

Meanwhile, Barkhane's succession plan, announced in the last months of 2021 by Florence Parly, has stalled. The coalition forming the European force Takuba continues to lose allies. The withdrawal of the Norwegian contingent, announced last week, closely follows Sweden's abandonment of Takuba.

For her part, the German State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Katja Keul, will also travel to Mali on Thursday 3 February. According to the German government, this visit to Mali concerns "the manner of the continuation of the commitment on the ground" of Germany in Mali.

A total European disengagement in Mali, therefore, which confirms the opinion of Prime Minister Choguel Maïga, who had accused France of “abandoning Mali in full flight”. The reasons, geopolitical, are even more dubious. But whatever the case, Paris is showing that ultimately its commitment to the Sahel is conditioned by total control over the “partner” countries.

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