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Recent coups in Africa have an effect on at least 1 country in Europe: France

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The recent string of coups in Africa is having an effect on at least one country in Europe, and that's France. anti-French rebels who've taken over in several Francophone countries have demanded that French troops and diplomats leave. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, the spate of coups is chipping away at the long tradition of French influence in Africa.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: After two months of confrontation with Niger's new junta, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on television that France would withdraw its ambassador and 1,500 soldiers from the country by year's end. He did not hide his bitterness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MACRON: (Through interpreter) We're in Niger and other countries in the region at their demand to fight terrorism. Our soldiers died in the Sahel fighting to keep Islamist extremists from taking over.

BEARDSLEY: The turn of events is a massive blow to French diplomacy and its military. Niger is the third Francophone country in the Sahel, or sub-Saharan Africa, to expel French forces after a coup following Mali and Burkina Faso. Vincent Hugeux is a professor and journalist who writes about Africa.

VINCENT HUGEUX: All these coups are just accelerating an unavoidable process of downsizing of the French presence and influence in Africa.

BEARDSLEY: Even after they gained independence in the 1960s, France retained a close, sometimes love-hate relationship with its former colonies. A system of political and business ties developed that was often fraught with patronage and corruption. The system even had a name - Francafrique. Macron and his predecessor, Francois Hollande, claimed to have turned the page on the days of Francafrique. But Roland Marchal, an Africa expert at Sciences Po University, says France needs to completely rethink its Africa policy to take into account drastic changes on the continent.

ROLAND MARCHAL: And France actually stick on a very old paradigm by which if you are able to intervene militarily, you could keep the influence you had as a former colonial power.

BEARDSLEY: Russian Wagner mercenaries have replaced French forces in Mali after that country's coup two years ago, and Russia is whipping up anti-French sentiment across Africa with disinformation campaigns. They're based on the idea that there's a French plot against Africa, says Thierry Vircoulon, who's studying the issue at the French Institute for International Relations.

THIERRY VIRCOULON: France has been, historically speaking, plotting against Africa.

BEARDSLEY: He says there's resentment at open-ended military interventions and the fact that their currencies are pegged to the euro. Vircoulon says despite U.N. documentation of Wagner's human rights abuses in Africa, 80% of political statements on Twitter in Mali are pro-Russian.

VIRCOULON: Because the Russians have really managed to control the social networks to saturate it with their own propaganda. Very aggressive digital campaigns against France, against the United Nations, against the European Union.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARTOON SOUND EFFECTS)

BEARDSLEY: One Wagner propaganda cartoon shows a large French rat named Emmanuel take over an African household...

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEPHONE RINGING)

BEARDSLEY: ...Until the grandfather telephones Wagner. Soon, a Russian soldier comes and kills the French rat with a sledgehammer before sitting down to a friendly picnic with the African family. The recent spate of coups and expulsions have been an earthquake for French foreign policy in Africa, says Vircoulon. But the aftershocks will be felt beyond France.

VIRCOULON: There was that historical division of labor between the U.S. and France to continue the fight against jihadism in the Sahel. And basically, France was supposed to take care of what's going on in the French speaking Africa.

BEARDSLEY: Now France is finished in the Sahel, he says, leaving the U.S. wondering how it will counter the growing terrorist threat in such a large swath of Africa. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.

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