Sameera Casmod | email@example.com
6 September 2023 | 11:35am SAST
In this week’s edition of the Media Lens on Radio Islam International with Hafez Ibrahim Deen, focus was on the withdrawal of French troops from Niger. The interview also focused on the media coverage of the situation, the impact of coups in former French colonies, and the Abaya ban in France.
Due to the recent military coup in Niger, France has been put under mounting pressure to remove their troops from the country. Deen explained that France had deployed approximately 1 500 troops in Niger following a coup in Mali in an effort to combat ISIS in the Sahel region and Al-Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb. To support France, the United States have an agreement with Niger to allow U.S. troops and aircraft to operate in Niger. The strained relations between the Niger military junta and France, coupled with expired agreements and protests outside the French military base in Niger are symbols of mounting pressure for the withdrawal of French troops from Niger.
France’s dependency on Niger for uranium, which accounts for a third of its electricity, played a crucial role in the reluctance to withdraw troops. The diplomatic rift resulted in Niger declaring the French ambassador persona non grata. Recent talks have emerged regarding the removal or relocation of some French troops.
Deen noted that the situation in Niger is symbolic of the broader trend unfolding across the African continent. Many African nations are expressing frustration with French neocolonialism and continuous French influence within their borders and are actively pushing for the exit of France.
Deen expressed concern about the media’s coverage, emphasising that it primarily focuses on the security aspects of France’s presence in Niger. The lack of nuance and comparative analysis means the French narrative dominates, neglecting the domestic perspective and broader issues, such as economic dependence.
“Why were there French troops in Niger in the first place? What else are French troops doing in Niger? There’s no focus on the fact that France’s electricity comes from Niger. There’s also very little focus on the fact that maybe it’s the approach of using military force to actually counter an idea that’s actually causing the problem and causing the antagonism.”
The media’s focus on the security-first approach to combatting groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda fails to question the effectiveness of this strategy or explore alternative approaches. In addition, the media have not focused on U.S. presence in Niger, nor the withdrawal of their troops. Furthermore, the disparities between French and U.S. responses to the situation, with the U.S. opting for a quieter diplomatic approach, have received insufficient attention.
Discussing the numerous coups in former French colonies across Africa, Deen highlighted growing frustration with France’s role on the continent. Many of these countries still use currencies tied to the CFA franc and are influenced by French politics. The impact on France could be severe as it faces a changing geopolitical landscape and increasing opposition to its neocolonial influence.
However, Deen distinguished between the reasons behind coups in different countries. In some cases, coups were sparked by decades-long presidencies and demands for change. He also noted the possibility of Russia becoming more involved in the region.
Shifting focus, Deen discussed the Abaya ban in France. The ban was imposed at the end of August on children attending state-run schools. Since 2004, France has implemented a prohibition on religious symbols in public schools as part of its commitment to a rigorous form of secularism referred to as “laicite”. Deen criticised the lack of nuanced coverage of the most recent ban in English media, which often fails to address the discrimination and hypocrisy surrounding the ban. Deen also emphasised the importance of linking the Abaya ban to France’s broader actions, highlighting how it disproportionately affects Muslims and perpetuates discrimination.
Listen to the Media Lens on Sabaahul Muslim with Moulana Sulaiman Ravat.