France is set to undertake an evacuation mission to bring back hundreds of French and European citizens from Niger within the next 24 hours, as a junta has recently taken control of the West African nation. Following the military ousting of President Mohamed Bazoum and the democratically elected government last Wednesday, Niger has closed its borders to commercial flights. This marks the seventh military takeover in West and Central Africa in less than three years, causing concern among Niger’s Western allies about potential shifts in influence and security issues in the region.
Niger’s Sahel region has been experiencing turmoil, with fears of escalating security threats due to the presence and advancement of groups affiliated with Islamic State and al Qaeda. France has been actively involved in the region for ten years, supporting efforts to combat Islamist insurgency. However, some locals have expressed their desire for the former colonial ruler to refrain from interfering in their internal affairs.
In response to the unfolding situation, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna stated that the evacuation aims to ensure the safety of French citizens who wish to leave Niger. The evacuation operation, conducted by planes, will also include citizens from other European Union countries. Italy has announced its intention to repatriate its nationals from Niger as well. European countries sending evacuation planes will coordinate their efforts.
The presence of international troops in Niger, including those from the United States, Germany, and Italy, has raised questions about whether they will also be evacuated, but no official announcements have been made yet.
Colonna emphasized that the evacuation operation was carried out after consultations with Nigerien authorities to ensure safety and in no way signifies recognition of the junta. Recent protests in front of the French embassy and accusations of France’s involvement have added to concerns of destabilization.
Russia’s Wagner mercenary group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, expressed support for the coup in Niger, raising further worries about external involvement. The Kremlin called for a swift return to constitutional order in Niger and expressed serious concern about the situation.
Niger, being a major producer of uranium, has implications for global nuclear energy and cancer treatment. However, EU utilities have sufficient uranium inventories to mitigate any immediate supply risks. French nuclear fuels company Orano stated that its activities in Niger would continue unaffected by the evacuations, as the majority of its staff are Nigerien nationals.
ECOWAS, the regional bloc, has imposed sanctions on Niger, including border closure, financial transaction halts, and a freeze on national assets. They also warned that force could be authorized to reinstate President Bazoum, who remains confined to his palace. In contrast, neighboring countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea expressed their support for the leaders of the coup.
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