France refuses any "paternalism" but also any "weakness" in Africa, said Emmanuel Macron on Monday, as the Sahel faces an "epidemic of putsches", most recently in Niger, where the French ambassador is still in post despite an ultimatum from the ruling military.
"Neither paternalism, nor weakness, because otherwise we're nowhere," the French president told French ambassadors gathered at the Elysée Palace, also calling on Sahel countries to have a "responsible policy" in this area.
"The weakness that some have shown towards previous putsches has fed regional vocations. There is an epidemic of putsches throughout the Sahel", he lamented, referring to the successive military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and, more recently, Niger.
The soldiers who seized power in Niger on July 26 have been holding the overthrown president, Mohamed Bazoum, prisoner in the presidential palace ever since, and have made France, the former colonial power, their prime target.
"I call on all states in the region to adopt a responsible policy", he insisted, recalling that "we support the diplomatic action, and when it decides to do so militarily, of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), in a partnership approach".
Emmanuel Macron went on to say that the French ambassador to Niger was still in post, even though the military who had taken power had requested his departure.
"France and its diplomats have been confronted in recent months with particularly difficult situations in certain countries, whether in Sudan, where France has been exemplary, or in Niger at this very moment, and I salute your colleague and your colleagues who are listening from their posts," he said.
The ruling Conseil national pour la sauvegarde de la patrie (CNSP), headed by General Abdourahamane Tiani, called on Friday evening for the departure of the French ambassador in Niamey, Sylvain Itté.
The CNSP also denounced the military agreements between Niamey and Paris, which has 1,500 soldiers in Niger. Before the coup d'état, the latter were involved in the fight against jihadist groups that have been bloodying this country and a large part of the Sahel for years.
Thousands of people in favour of the coup d'état demonstrated near the French military base in Niamey on Sunday, holding up placards demanding the departure of French troops.
But France is taking a firm stance, arguing that it does not recognize the military regime. "The putschists have no authority" to demand the departure of the ambassador, said the French Foreign Ministry on Friday evening.
"We must not give in to a narrative used by the putschists, which would consist of saying +our enemy has become France+", warned Mr. Macron.
"The problem for the people of Niger today is that the putschists are putting them in danger because they are abandoning the fight against terrorism, because they are abandoning a policy that was good for them economically, and they are losing all the international funding that was in the process of lifting them out of poverty," he insisted.