Africa Buckles as French Flee Niger and the War In Sudan Worsens

Paris rings in the new year by bolting from its former colony as civil war engulfs Sudan — and Russia eyes the vacuum.

AP/Jerome Delay, file
French soldiers disembark from a U.S. Air Force C130 cargo plane at Niamey, Niger base, on June 9, 2021. AP/Jerome Delay, file

President Macron just left a military vacuum in Niger, and President Biden is asleep at the wheel while Sudan implodes completely — and it isn’t even the new year yet.

Soon it will be, though, and with the world’s weary eyes focused on Israel’s war against Hamas it is easy to overlook how due south of Jerusalem an already shaky geopolitical  fabric is coming apart at the seams. The economic and security implications of this chaotic turn may not be large at present but risk ballooning with time. 

The calamity in Niger, a uranium-rich country with a French colonial past, has been deteriorating ever since July, when the country’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, was overthrown in a coup. A military junta took over, and President Bazoum lurks under house arrest.

In September the French ambassador fled the country, and Monsieur Macron announced that France would be ending “its military cooperation with the de facto authorities of Niger, because they no longer want to fight against terrorism.” Three days before Christmas, he made good on that pledge. 

The French exit from Niger leaves hundreds of American military personnel, and a number of Italian and German troops, remaining in the country. In effect Paris has appeased the generals, who following their takeover at Niamey demanded that France remove its roughly 1,500 soldiers and pilots from the country. 

The departure from Niger comes at a time when the Quai d’Orsay is quietly complaining about Mr. Macron’s amorphous approach to the war in Gaza. It represents the third time in less than 18 months that French troops have been sent packing from an African country.

The French were essentially forced to leave fellow former colonies Mali last year and Burkina Faso earlier this year following military takeovers in those countries, too. All three nations are battling a jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012, later spreading to Niger and Burkina Faso.

A string of coups in the Sahel region since 2020 has seen relations nosedive with France, the former colonial power snubbed even by Morocco, and a pivot toward greater rapprochement with Russia. The first French contingent, according to some dispatches, decamped in October. Those remaining at an air base at Niamey will be out by December 29, leaving Africa with stops in Chad and Cameroon. 

America kept a thousand military personnel in Niger despite some calls to withdraw them, but is no longer actively training or assisting Niger’s forces. This month, Washington said it is ready to resume cooperation with Niger on the condition its military regime commits to a rapid transition to civilian rule. That won’t be happening anytime soon: The rogue rulers say they want up to three years to transition back to a civilian government.

Sudan, in the meantime, is still in the throes of civil war. There as in Mali it is likely that Moscow was behind much of the mayhem, at least initially, due to the off-radar interference of Wagner mercenaries forces. That was earlier this year, and Russia is now rebranding its Wagner men as a new Africa Corps.

The war pits the Sudanese armed forces against the rebel rapid support forces. The RSF commander is Mohamed Hamdan Daglo — also known as Hemedti, or “little Mohammed.” He previously fought with the Sudanese Arab Janjaweed militia, linked to atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict. 

Following a full-fledged assault earlier this month, the southern Sudanese city of Wad Madani is now fully under RSF control. To make matters worse, Sudan’s army chief and de facto ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has threatened to crack down on his own forces for beating a retreat: “Those who were responsible for this withdrawal will also be held accountable without leniency,” he said last week. 

Much of the capital, Khartoum, is already in ruins, and now some 300,000 people have reportedly fled Wad Madani as RSF fighters loot the city and terrorize the local population. Those displaced  had already fled Khartoum. 

In a statement earlier this month, Secretary Blinken said, “Across Sudan, the RSF and allied militias have terrorized women and girls through sexual violence, attacking them in their homes, kidnapping them from the streets, or targeting those trying to flee. In haunting echoes of the genocide that began almost 20 years ago in Darfur, we have seen an explosion of targeted violence against some of the same survivors’ communities.”

Mr. Blinken risks amplifying the consequences of the latest African catastrophe through his department’s inattention — eloquent descriptions of the unfolding chaos notwithstanding. Aside from pro forma calls from the Department of State for both the SAF and RSF to “end the fighting,” nothing substantive has been proffered. 

The American Embassy at Khartoum, meanwhile, has been closed since May. The Biden administration may not have written off Sudan altogether, but clearly it is absent. More than 12,000 people have been killed in the country since war broke out in April and more than five million people are now internally displaced.

The White House chooses to play politics by focusing on Gaza, where — unlike in Sudan — impending famine is not an issue. All the while, as CNN first reported, Russia is managing to extract considerable quantities of gold from Sudan to help finance its war against Ukraine. There is little question that, not unlike Niger, Sudan is now a failed state. Moscow loves a vacuum.

The New York Sun

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