Analysis. Emmanuel Macron was in Mauritania and Nigeria this week attempting to disengage the French armed forces from missions in Africa. That puts him at odds with Italy, which has dispatched troops to southwestern Libya.

France and Italy face off in neo-colonial clash in Niger

The French president is tireless. As the confrontation between Italy and France intensifies in the Sahel, Emmanuel Macron is looking for more money to finance the French and African military missions. Indeed, Macron and his allies in Niger have shown that they prefer even the post-Brexit Great Britain to the Italians.

This situation is quite far from the spotlight and is assuming a paradoxical and tragicomical dimension. Macron was in Mauritania at the African Union summit, and Monday he was in Nigeria. France will continue to lead the G5 Sahel force, which brings together Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad, but its objective is to gradually dismiss it.

This is a very topical issue after the terrorist attacks during the weekend against the G5 Sahel headquarters in Sévaré, Mali, and against the soldiers of the French operation Barkhane. Macron also spoke to the leaders of five Sahel countries of the G5, a military and security system that took its cue from the French intervention in Mali in 2013 against Al Qaeda.

Paris has returned to the continent where, in the last half century, it has carried out about 50 military missions, not factoring in the secret and clandestine operations. France today has 7,000 soldiers in Africa and, in addition to Djibouti, maintains bases on the Atlantic coast, with an important presence in Senegal, Gabon, Ivory Coast and a decisive role between Mali, Chad and Central Africa. However, now France wants to reduce its expensive and insidious military presence: the main obstacle to this disengagement regards the United States, which has significantly reduced its funding for the so-called African peace operations.

Paris is also trying to compensate for the increase in French military engagement in Syria (1,000 soldiers) next to the Americans. The “French grandeur,” extended to its former possessions and colonial protectorates from the Middle East to Africa, has to deal with the budgets, thus France was very disappointed by the Italian plan regarding a military mission to Niger, dedicated to migrants trafficking and not to fight against jihadist formations.

Therefore, the French had tried to oppose to the mission with the support of Nigeria’s internal forces. This mission has particular value for Italy. Indeed, it began a military reconnaissance in Ghat, southwest Libya, where with European funds Rome would like to set up a military and police command to train future border guards in Tripoli and control five border points with Niger, Algeria and Chad crossed by convoys of “illegal” migrants to the Mediterranean. On the other hand, the Italian-French affair in Niger has assumed almost a comical tone, apart from the seriousness of lacerating African dramas. The failure to launch Italy’s mission, which also released €100 million for Niamey, is compounded by the mockery of the arrival of British troops in Niger.

The avant-gardes of a contingent of 100 of Her Majesty’s soldiers landed in Niamey on June 14 to be part of Operation Barkhane. The dispatching of troops to the Sahel reaffirmed the importance of Franco-British military cooperation, which for Paris is also a guarantee in the event of a crisis of the Berlin agreement and of the European Union’s inability to meet the security challenges.

The saga of this mission in Niger—which was accompanied by a sort of summit on June 20 at the FAO in Rome between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou—is having paradoxical aspects. About 40 Italian soldiers, under the command of a general, have been camped for months, in a precarious manner, in the US base of Niamey airport without even a written agreement to legally justify their presence.

It’s one more spite, almost a humiliation, which demonstrates the inability of European partners to act as allies and not as competitors.

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