France takes us for idiots’ – Inside coup-hit Niger
His eyes suggest steely determination, but Adama Zourkaleini Maiga speaks softly.
Single mother of two, she lives in a quiet, middle-class part of Niamey, but is originally from Tillabéry, one of Niger’s most violent regions.
Over lunch, she tells me that her mother’s cousin was the chief of a village called Téra. Seven months ago, he was assassinated.
The terrorists were looking for him, and when they discovered he had rented a car to flee, they caught up with him and killed him. His throat was slit.
Despite having 1,500 troops in the region to fight Islamist militants, Adama blames France for the violence.
“They cannot tell us that the French army was successful,” she says. The situation keeps getting worse every year, and they claim they’re here to help people fight terrorism.”
In the Sahel region, which has become the epicenter of jihadi violence, Niger was seen as the last Western ally. Both France and the US station troops in Niger, which also hosts the largest drone base in the world.
Nevertheless, simmering resentment over perceived French interference in Niger’s internal affairs boiled over when France refused to recognise the new military government. Nigeriens believe France has privileged access to the country’s political elite and natural resources for too long. As a result, they see the coup as an opportunity for a clean slate, a way to regain sovereignty and end French influence.
In Niger, five coups have rocked the country since its independence from France in 1960, Adama says.
The military will eventually return to their bases and hand over to a better civilian government, according to her.