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Sahel’s Diplomatic Dance: French Exit, Russian Rise

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The Sahel region of West Africa has long been a focal point of French influence, stemming from its colonial history. However, recent events have signaled a significant shift in this dynamic, with Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Chad all taking steps to assert their independence from France while facing a growing presence of Russia

In Niger, the departure of the last French troops marks the end of a decade-long military presence aimed at combating Islamist insurgency in the region. The move comes after the military junta that seized power in July made the withdrawal of French forces a key demand, echoing similar actions by Burkina Faso and Mali following coups in those countries.

Burkina Faso’s military leader, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, has denied rumors of a diplomatic split with France, stating that there is no break in diplomatic relations. However, the government has ended a military accord with France, calling for the withdrawal of French troops within a month.

In Mali, the transitional government has officially announced the end of diplomatic, military, and economic ties with France, citing the demands of the Malian people. This move follows a series of actions that have strained relations between the two countries since the military coup in 2020.

Chad has also recently threatened to end a critical security agreement with the US, which could result in the loss of US military presence in the country. The agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), determines the rules under which US military personnel can operate in Chad. While the letter from Chad’s Chief of Air Staff, Idriss Amine, did not directly order US forces to leave, it stated that all US forces would have to leave the French base in N’Djamena.

These developments reflect a broader trend of African nations reevaluating their relationships with former colonial powers and asserting their sovereignty. The decisions of Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Chad to distance themselves from France have significant implications for regional security and geopolitics in the Sahel, especially as Russia expands its influence in the region.

As these countries navigate a new era of independence, it will be crucial for them to forge new partnerships and alliances that prioritize their own interests and development. The shifting sands of French influence in the Sahel are indicative of a larger movement towards self-determination and self-governance in Africa, amidst a backdrop of increased Russian presence and activities in the region.

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