France’s Waning Influence in the Sahel: A Shift Towards Russia and Growing Political Instability
In recent years, the Sahel region and several West African countries have experienced significant political instability, leading to a decline in France’s influence in its former colonies and a potential shift towards closer ties with Russia.
Across Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, military takeovers have resulted in the leadership of these nations, with the new regimes displaying a notable lack of support for France and a growing inclination towards Russia.
In a striking display of discontent, Burkina Faso’s transitional government demanded the departure of the French Ambassador from the country in December 2022, and subsequently expelled the embassy’s defense attaché. Similarly, Mali also expelled the French Ambassador in 2022 amid escalating tensions with its former colonial power.
The coup in Niger and the subsequent withdrawal of French troops from the West African country served as a pivotal moment, signaling to the French government that it had suffered a significant setback in the region. In a move echoing their counterparts in Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger also expelled the French ambassador, resulting in the closure of the French embassy in the country.
More recently, Niger suspended all cooperation with the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF), citing its use by France as “an instrument to defend French interests.” This action underscores the growing rift between the Sahel nations and France, as well as their rejection of institutions historically associated with French influence.
Analysts and regional observers have noted a shift in the geopolitical landscape of the Sahel, with a growing sentiment that France’s policy in the region is faltering and will ultimately prove unsuccessful. This sentiment is being echoed by some regional leaders, who argue that a recalibration of foreign relationships is essential for the collective benefit of African nations, indicating a potential turn towards alternative international partnerships, including those with Russia.
“It is evident that France’s approach to Africa is faltering and is destined to fail, particularly in the best interest of Africa,” remarked Owei Lakemfa, a Nigerian commentator specializing in international relations. He emphasized that France has historically relied on others, particularly the African people, to sustain itself. Lakemfa criticized France’s policies in Africa as being rooted in domination and exploitation, characterizing the European nation as parasitic in its foreign and economic endeavours.
“From my perspective, France’s actions have been parasitic in its foreign and economic policy,” Lakemfa stated. “If France is formulating a new policy, it must be one that does not exploit. However, if it continues to be exploitative, as I anticipate, then the hope is that France will ultimately fail.”
Lakemfa further suggested that France should focus on internal development rather than seeking to exploit African nations for its own gain. His sentiments reflect a growing chorus of voices advocating for a shift in the dynamics of international relationships, particularly in the context of Africa’s engagement with foreign powers.
In a similar vein, Sidie Tunis, the Speaker of the ECOWAS parliament, has urged the West African body to reassess the relationship between its Francophone members and France, indicating a broader reevaluation of the region’s ties with former colonial powers.