Two people were killed by French soldiers in recent protests against occupation of West Africa.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Paris has always had Africa as a route for its political and economic expansionism, advancing on the continent and making it part of its international sphere of influence. However, it is possible to see that the African people are increasingly indignant with the constant presence of French military personnel in the region, which has resulted in protests taking to the streets of African cities, clamoring for a change. Now, French forces are seeing such demonstrations as a real threat and treating the population in a violent and disrespectful way, with the sole intention of asserting power and demonstrating the strength of the Paris’ agenda.
In recent days, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest against the French expansionism in many African countries. This week, at least two people died in western Niger due to the brutality of French troops trying to stop a demonstration. During the action of the military convoy that tried to prevent the people from protesting, several shots were fired, leaving, in addition to the fatalities, eighteen injured people – eleven of them seriously wounded. This same convoy had previously performed similar scenes in Burkina Faso, where French military personnel shot at four protesters last week, generating a wave of indignation and revolt on the part of the local population.
According to what has been reported by Agence France-Presse, the convoy has a force of around 100 soldiers and has departed from Côte d’Ivoire and, after circulating through Burkina Faso and Niger, is on its way to Mali, where it will be joining a French military base in the Gao region. Apparently, this convoy is making an international tour of the western part of the African continent, acting as a kind of “police force” in the containment of demonstrations, ignoring local authorities and the right of the citizens of these states to demand changes in the security policies that are being implemented in their countries.
The French forces reported that the shooting in Niger was motivated by the protesters’ own actions. According to the troops, the protesters tried to block the convoy’s passage, which was why the soldiers, trying to open the way, acted with the use of force. Obviously, regardless of the actions taken by the protesters, it is inconceivable for trained military personnel armed with war equipment to act with total force against unarmed civilians. Although it is admitted to partially use military power to disperse protesters, it is absolutely reprehensible that this resulted in lethal gunshots, killing innocent citizens who only exercised their civil right to protest against the presence of foreign troops in their country.
Also, there are images and videos circulating on the internet recording the horror scenes that took place in Niger this week, where it is possible to note that the use of force by the French far exceeded the reasonable line to simply disperse a human barricade of protesters. In one of the videos, it is possible to see a French Mirage 2000 strike aircraft dropping flares and tear gas bombs in a high-speed, low altitude pass over the protesters. There are also reports of shootings from military drones.
Commenting on the case, the Nigerien Interior Ministry said in a statement that “an investigation has been opened to determine the exact circumstances of this tragedy and determine responsibility”. However, it should be noted that this is not the first time that such actions have been carried out with impunity by French forces. Not only are the African people tired of the immeasurable violence perpetrated by French troops, but the very governments that “allow” such actions also wish to put an end to them, however, they lack the power to do so.
Faced with immense military asymmetry, with African countries being much weaker than France and still sharing a problematic heritage from the colonial ties of past centuries, West African governments do not have many options to respond to the suffering of their own people. There are no ways to retaliate or punish the French for their criminal acts – and there are no viable ways to expel the Europeans either.
In Mali, the military tried to end the French presence through a coup d’état last year, but the Paris’ forces continue to act freely against the local population in many situations, such as the massacre of 22 civilians during an attack to a Malian village earlier this year. In fact, there seems to be no alternative path for the African states, which, as long as they do not have a political, economic, and military structure strong enough to coercively expel foreign troops, will continue to suffer the consequences of Paris’ neo-colonial expansionism.
France, on its part, has diminished its interest in the African continent. The failure of the occupation of the Sahel showed that the French project for Africa was unfeasible and that, therefore, Paris should change its focus on international projection – which has gradually turned to the European and Mediterranean space itself. On the other hand, France does not want to simply “abandon” Africa, as this would open the way for another world power to occupy this space.
The French project, therefore, consists of reducing the presence of their troops in the African space, but preventing a real “independence” on the part of African governments, preventing them to seek new alliances. In practice, this materializes in actions such as the ones of this convoy, which spread chaos and instability in the region. The French objective in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Niger is to prevent, through intimidation, a maneuver such as the one that happened in Mali – and, in Mali, the aim is to prevent the military’s plan to succeed.
Indeed, France “does not want” Africa at the moment, but it is not willing to allow Africans to follow their own path of independence. Fostering social chaos, disorder and violence seems to be the French tactic in this regard.
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