“We are here to mark France’s commitment alongside the Nigerien authorities” in development aid and the fight against terrorism, assured French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.

“We are here in order to respond as best as possible to the needs that you express”, she insisted, during a press conference with the French Minister for the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu and their counterparts Hassoumi Massoudou and Alkassoum Indatou, in following an interview with President Mohamed Bazoum.

Pushed out of Mali by the junta in power since 2020, which called on the services of the sulphurous Russian paramilitary group Wagner, the French army will have completely withdrawn from the country at the end of the summer, after nine years of anti-jihadist struggle.

France is nevertheless continuing its cooperation with neighboring Niger, which has become Paris’ central partner in the Sahel. More than a thousand French soldiers and air capabilities will be maintained there to provide fire support and intelligence to the Nigerien armies as part of a “combat partnership” aimed at securing the border area with Mali.

Paris and Niamey also signed on Friday a loan of 50 million euros for the reinforcement of the Niger electricity network and a donation of 20 million euros for the benefit of Niger, which is one of the priority countries for French development aid. (143 million euros in 2021).

Over the past ten years, the French Development Agency (AFD) has increased its commitments in Niger tenfold.

France will also increase its food aid to Niger by 66% in 2022, to 8 million euros, “at a difficult time for world food security” due to the war in Ukraine, Ms Colonna announced.

“If we don’t win the development war, we will eventually lose the war on terrorism,” commented his Nigerien counterpart, Mr. Massoudou.

– New philosophy –

The partnership between Paris and Niamey on the security level was also the subject of discussions on the needs of the Nigerien general staff.

In the Sahel, the philosophy of French military interventions has evolved: there is no longer any question for soldiers to act alone, but only in the second line, in support of local forces and according to their requests. A way to reduce the visibility of their action, which acts as an irritant in African societies, while remaining present in this area of ​​historical influence.

In addition to the jihadist threat, “there is a novelty that is close to our hearts, it is to take a greater interest in (…) the war of disinformation, in cyber threats which are just as important”, also said Mr. Lecornu, while the Russians are carrying out an aggressive strategy of influence in West Africa with massive anti-French campaigns on social networks.

The two French ministers are expected in the afternoon at the Nigerien military base of Ouallam, north of Niamey. It is from there that the joint operations of around 300 French soldiers and the Nigerien armed forces (FAN) are piloted near the Malian border, against jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group.

Nigeriens have just consented to these French soldiers being co-located at their base in Ouallam.

The French ministers will also visit the village of Simiri near Ouallam, where France is funding a project to combat child malnutrition.

After his trip to Niger, Sébastien Lecornu will travel to Côte d’Ivoire on Saturday to meet President Alassane Ouatarra and visit the French Forces in Côte d’Ivoire (FFCI).

These visits come as President Emmanuel Macron wishes to redesign the strategy of the former colonial power in Africa, in order to avoid a strategic downgrade at a time of increased competition on the international scene.

“I have asked the ministers and the Chief of Defense Staff to rethink all of our arrangements on the African continent by the fall,” he said on Wednesday.