Although insecurity remains the major driver of unrest in the Niger Republic, drastic agitations against the presence of foreign troops in the Sahel have sparked controversy in Dosso, Tillaberi and Niamey, as hostilities against French forces, in particular, have worsened in recent weeks.

                          Operation Barkhane

The French military intervention in the Sahel has come a long way as they have contributed to the fight against insurgency and terrorism along the highly proliferated three border zone that cuts across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger Republic, popularly known as the tri-border area. The operation kicked off in 2013 with “Operation Serval” in Mali and later evolved in 2014 into “Operation Barkhane, ” an anti-insurgent endeavour that dates back to 1 August 2014, against Islamist groups in the Sahel region. Thus, the importance of this formidable ally cannot be overemphasized, considering military efforts that have been put into securing the hotspots across Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger with Barkhane and the G5-Sahel forces operating under joint command and targeting Islamic State as a priority.

Considering the above to mention a few, why the sudden change? The reality is, the situation in the Sahel has deteriorated, and yes there are success stories with small and big wins involved. However, Non-State Armed Groups and various factions of the Islamic State groups continue to aggressively spread their tentacles, covering more zones at a rapid rate.

Various sources have highlighted that the French troops’ drawback will include the shutdown of the three military bases in northern Mali, the reduction of troops, meanwhile, the operational reform will reportedly prioritize the defence of the tri-border area. Nevertheless, the static security situation alongside socio-economic and socio-political challenges have triggered further hostilities towards foreign forces in many parts of the country and other countries in the Sahel. In this light, on 27 November 2021, a protest to denounce the presence of French troops turned violent in Tera Department. Subsequent tensions were noted in Niamey and pockets of demonstrations with little impact were captured on 5 December 2021 in Niamey. Similarly, highly disruptive protests manifested in the neighboring country Burkina Faso, at Ouahigouya, Nord region on 19 November 2021 and in Kaya, Centre-Nord region on 23 November 2021.

In the stead of repeated protests, another planned protest by civil societies has been scheduled to be held across all regions of Niger, including the capital city Niamey on 12 December 2021 to demand the departure of French forces from Niger territory. This Follows the initial protest ban imposed by the government that led to the arrest of seven (7) defaulters on 5 December 2021 in Niamey. The persistence of citizens has elevated the tension within different regions, thereby, increasing the possibility of violent clashes across the country which poses a high-security risk as some of the regions like Tillaberi, Diffa and Tahoua are already prone to incursions.

Given the imminent drawdown of French troops, the security stance of the Sahel region would be in a precarious position due to projected vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, various concerns have been raised and questions such as: will the exit slow the momentum of joint troops? Are local forces and joint forces capable of keeping these armed groups at bay? Are there contingency plans to make up for possible defenceless zones and possible blind spots that may emerge?