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How Washington Sustains Diplomatic Engagement with Military Regimes in West Africa

Less than five months after Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum was deposed in a coup, former colonial power France is pulling out the last remaining troops it had deployed to the West African state to fight militant Islamists threatening stability across the region. Relations with Paris are at rock-bottom – French ambassador Sylvain Itté departed in September at the military junta’s insistence – while the European Union (EU) has also been snubbed. The junta has opted to rely on a new defence alliance with neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali. They are also both under military rule and resisting demands, including from the West African regional bloc Ecowas, for a rapid restoration of civilian-led democracy. The soldiers who have seized power in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali over the past three years have all opportunistically played the anti-French card to boost their popularity. As their countries feel the pressure of increased economic isolation, and reduced development and security support, the former colonial power is a useful scapegoat. In this polarised context the US has played a softer-toned public game.