France is pulling its ambassador — and 1,500 troops — out of Niger.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
France is pulling its ambassador and 1,500 troops out of the West African country Niger. Niger is a former French colony, and for years, French forces have helped fight jihadist movements from there in the Sahel region of Africa. But Niger is not the first francophone country in Africa to demand the departure of French troops.
NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is watching all this from Paris. Hey there.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So let's start with what's happening and why is France leaving now. This has to do with the coup over the summer?
BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. The coup leaders who took over in July, the new junta, is very anti-French, and they asked France to leave. For a while, President Emmanuel Macron said, no, you're a legitimate government; we will stay. But it became impossible. The ambassador couldn't even leave the embassy. So last night, he said on TV he's pulling out the ambassador and the 1,500 troops. And he also said this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Non-English language spoken).
BEARDSLEY: He said, "we're in Niger because we were invited by Niger and several other countries in the region to come help fight terrorism. We had soldiers die in the Sahel to keep jihadis from taking over many places." So he said they had a legitimate reason for being there, but there was a coup, and France couldn't do anything about that.
KELLY: I want to try to tie together two things we just learned. One is you said this new junta is very anti-French. The other thing is, I said as I was introducing you, Niger is not the first francophone country to expel French troops in these last few years. Does this speak to rising anti-French sentiment more broadly on the continent?
BEARDSLEY: Yes, in some of those places it does. In Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, anti-French coups have happened. The new juntas have expelled the French. There's a number of factors fanning that anti-French sentiment. It's partly the post-colonial legacy. Those were all French colonies. And since their independence in the 1960s, France has stayed involved with them. But the involvement wasn't always so straightforward as it is today. You know, French leaders actually received suitcases of money and even diamonds to sort of support some of these African dictators. So there are bad feelings from that.
And there's anti-French sentiment to be exploited. And the French are kind of blamed for things. And there's also Russia. Russia is whipping up anti-French sentiment. And for example, Mali's ruling junta, their security is Wagner, the mercenary - the Russian mercenaries, who is now in there. And there are huge disinformation campaigns. And Mary Louise, listen to this.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).
BEARDSLEY: That is a video that is going around Africa. Those are, like, zombie French soldiers saying we are Macron's demons. We are coming back to conquer Africa. And these are the kind of things that are on African social media. And it's working. I spoke with Thierry Vircoulon, who is with the French Institute of International Affairs. He specializes in disinformation in Africa. And here's what he told me.
THIERRY VIRCOULON: Russia has used these competencies in manipulating the social networks, like they did in America, very much in Africa.
KELLY: So interesting. Eleanor, just step back for a second. You're talking to us from Paris. How do people in France see this - their ambassador, their troops leaving the region, coming home?
BEARDSLEY: Well, President Macron seemed stunned when all - this happened in July. And last night, he seemed very much regretful of what he had to announce. And it's a huge blow to France and its diplomatic power and presence in Africa. And Mary Louise, it actually affects the U.S. too, which relied on the French army in West Africa and the Sahel to help in the fight against extremism. So it has very wide repercussions.
As for the French people, it's kind of remote. I think they're probably not so much concerned. But they have been watching on TV footage of crowds in these countries, you know, with anti-French slogans - France get out, down with France - waving Russian flags. And it's all very surreal.
KELLY: That is NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reporting from Paris. Thank you, Eleanor.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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