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President Macron says France will end its military presence in Niger, pull its ambassador after coup



PARIS (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron announced Sunday that France will end its military presence in Niger and pull its ambassador out of the country as a result of the coup that removed the democratically elected president.

Niger’s junta said in response that the announcement signals a “new step towards the sovereignty” of the country.

“Imperialist and neo-colonialist forces are no longer welcome on our national territory. The new era of cooperation, based on mutual respect and sovereignty is already underway,” it said in a statement.

The announcement was a significant, if expected, blow to France’s policy in Africa, with French troops having had to pull out of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in recent years after coups there. France had stationed thousands of troops in the Sahel region at the request of African leaders to fight Islamic extremist groups.

France has maintained some 1,500 troops in Niger since the July coup, and had repeatedly refused an order by the new junta for its ambassador to leave, saying that France didn’t recognize the coup leaders as legitimate.

But tensions had mounted in recent weeks between France and Niger, a former French colony, and Macron said recently that French diplomats were surviving on military rations as they holed up in the embassy.

Macron’s announcement came after the coup leaders issued a statement earlier Sunday that they were closing Niger’s airspace to French planes, commercial and military, so that the new leadership could “retake total control of its skies and its territory.″ The decision did not apply to other international aircraft.

Ali Sekou Ramadan, an aide to Niger’s deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, told The Associated Press that Bazoum requested that Macron withdraw the French ambassador, Sylvain Itte, “in order to reduce tension.”

In an interview with the France-2 and TF1 television networks, Macron said he spoke to Bazoum on Sunday and told him that “France has decided to bring back its ambassador, and in the coming hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France.”

He added, “And we will put an end to our military cooperation with the Niger authorities because they don’t want to fight against terrorism anymore.”

He said the troops would be gradually pulled out, likely by the end of the year, in coordination with the coup leaders ‘’because we want it to take place peacefully.”

He said France’s military presence was in response to a request from Niger’s government at the time. That military cooperation between France and Niger had been suspended since the coup, however. The junta leaders claimed Bazoum’s government wasn’t doing enough to protect the country from the insurgency.

The junta is now under sanctions by Western and regional African powers.

Insa Garba Saidou, a local activist who assists Niger’s new military rulers with their communications, said they would continue to monitor developments until the French ambassador leaves the country. He also demanded a clear deadline for the withdrawal of the French troops.

“This announcement from the French president announces the victory of the people of Niger. However, we are going to take it with a lot of reservation because I no longer believe in Mr. Macron,” said Saidou.

The junta in August gave the French ambassador 48 hours to leave. After the deadline expired without France recalling him, the coup leaders then revoked his diplomatic immunity.

In New York on Friday, the military government that seized power in Niger accused U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of obstructing the West African nation’s full participation at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders in order to appease France and its allies.

Experts say that after repeated military interventions in its former colonies in recent decades, the era of France as Africa’s “gendarme” may finally be over, as the continent’s priorities shift.

Andrew Lebovich, a research fellow with the Clingendael Institute, a think tank, said the decision marks both an acceptance of a “harsh reality for France in the region and may possibly put some limits on the U.S. deployments in Niger, though as we have seen, the U.S. and France have not followed exactly the same positionings in Niger.”

Rida Lyammouri, a senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, said Niger will feel the loss of French support in its fight against violent extremist groups.

“France has been a reliable partner providing support to its operations and Niger simply doesn’t have an alternative to fill this void by the French, at least in short and mid term,” Lyammouri said.

Macron last year withdrew French troops from Mali following tensions with the ruling junta after a 2020 coup, and more recently from Burkina Faso, for similar reasons. Both African countries had asked for the French forces to leave.

France also suspended military operations with Central African Republic, accusing its government of failing to stop a “massive” anti-French disinformation campaign.

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Liberian leader George Weah hailed for his sportsmanship after accepting defeat



Culled from the BBC – Liberian President George Weah has been hailed for his sportsmanship for conceding to his rival in the presidential race – from across the political divide and the region.

“This is a time for graciousness in defeat, a time to place our country above party, and patriotism above personal interest,” the former football star, who has served as Liberia’s president since 2018, said.

The 57-year-old’s phone call to congratulate Joseph Boakai on Friday night has saved the country, which has a history of brutal civil conflict, from a weekend of tension.

“These are great times in Liberia and in Africa because such action on the part of a sitting president is very, very, very rare,” Liberian human rights advocate Hassan Bility told the BBC.

He is the director of the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), which has been documenting evidence of war crimes committed during two civil wars, in which an estimated 250,000 died.

For him, Mr Weah’s concession in the second round – three days before the official results are due to be announced – was not only the action of a great sportsman but “a high mark of statesmanship and peace”.

The former Fifa World Player of the Year has 49.11% of the vote so far from the results of 99.58% of polling stations.

Mr Weah’s special aide, Sekou Kalasco Jomanday, said his move did not come as a surprise.

“That is the kind of person he is, he’s a man of peace – he’s a man who believes the will of the people should always be respected and he will continue to do that,” he told the BBC.

“The president doesn’t believe that one person should lose their life because of any political struggle or one man’s quest to be president by all costs.”

Liberian political analyst Abdullah Kiatamba said Mr Weah had looked at the figures and realised his pathway to victory was “almost impossible”.

“I think this is a victory for Liberian democracy… for an incumbent to concede is a testament to the maturity of our democracy,” he told the BBC.

The elections are the first since the exit of UN peacekeepers who were deployed after the official end of the civil wars in 2003.

Samora Wolokollie, the country’s deputy finance minister, told the BBC the president had been determined to ensure the polls were conducted with the “utmost integrity”.

“He will forever be remembered for this patriotic move,” he said.

The regional bloc Ecowas has also come out with a gushing statement of thanks to Mr Weah.

“Your gracious acceptance of the results of the elections is indicative of your statesmanship and commitment to the consolidation of peace and security in Liberia,” said Omar Alieu Touray, president of the Ecowas Commission, who also commended the free, fair and autonomously organised poll.

Ecowas has been at the forefront of efforts to bring stability to Liberia – at one stage sending up to 12,000 soldiers to the country in the 1990s, with Nigeria troops forming the backbone of a peacekeeping force known as Ecomog.

George Weah’s name has been trending on social media across much of Africa, including in Nigeria where people have been saying that, while his concession is a positive move, it is not unique.

“People are saying that the ‘Jonathan effect’ is catching on – former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, wanted to get another term in 2015, was defeated and he called up then-opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari to congratulate him,” Mannir Dan Ali, former editor-in-chief of Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper, told the BBC.

“It was unprecedented because usually presidents sitting tight will never concede – that is why George Weah has also shown a lot of grace by accepting the will of Liberians and congratulating his opponent.”

Dan Ali says he has noted a certain amount of pride in Nigeria that Liberia is following its example.

“Nigerians are like big brothers to Liberia – remember Nigerians shed their own blood to keep Liberia together, to help them get them out of the civil war. More than $4bn [£3.2bn] of Nigeria’s money was spent on Ecomog. Nigerians, who always like to claim to be the giants of Africa, will be happy to say that in this particular case they showed the way.”

Most analysts agree Mr Weah has shown a red card to those flouting democracy in West Africa, where there has been a recent upsurge in military coups and disputed elections.

“George Weah has set the stage for other countries to follow,” Loretta Pope Kai, chair of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, told the BBC, adding that it showed “the power of the people mattered”.

Mr Bility agreed: “Liberia represents, in my opinion, a beacon of hope for Africa.”

Looking back at Mr Weah’s presidency, he said that the footballer-turned-politician should also be remembered for tolerance and some infrastructural development – his supporters nicknamed him “Bad Road Medicine” after he once said he was the medicine needed to treat bad roads.

“It’s amazing to see that there aren’t any political prisoners in jail, there aren’t journalists in jail, free speech was at its highest,” Mr Bility said.

Supporters of opposition Unity party (UP), of president-elect, Joseph Boakai, celebrate victory in Monrovia, Liberia - 18 November 2023

Officials results will be announced on Monday afternoon but, after President Weah’s concession, Joseph Boakai’s supporters are celebrating

Both Mr Weah and Mr Boakai attended crowded church services in the capital, Monrovia, on Sunday, where they addressed their supporters.

“We would not have been in church today if I had done what others wanted me to do,” said the president, who will step down in January.

“We cannot also blame ourselves for not getting victory, it is a learning curve.”

During his concession speech, he warned his successor that “the closeness of the results reveals a deep division within our country”.

“As we transition to a new administration, we must be vigilant to the dangers of division, and must work together to find common ground.”

Social media has been full of comments reflecting this split, with Liberians documenting his successes (like increasing doctors’ salaries and improving education) and his failures (corruption scandals and poor funding for football).

Indeed the fact that the national team has failed to reach any continental finals over the last five years prompted Cyrus Yeanay, an executive committee member of the Liberia Football Association, to post on Facebook: “George Weah, you were voted [out] for failing football too.”

Meanwhile, at a packed Baptist service, the 78-year-old president-elect told the congregation he was taking his endorsement seriously: “I know what the Liberian people need and deserve.”

His focus on the campaign trial has been on fighting corruption and boosting agricultural production.

But with such high expectations in a divided nation, Mr Bility has two pieces of advice for him: “One, maintain the peace; two, pursue justice.

“Because no matter what, no specific president is going to be able to satisfy the desires and needs of a 176-year-old under-developed country.”

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Rwanda announces visa-free travel for all Africans as continent opens up to free movement of people



NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Rwanda announced Thursday that it will allow Africans to travel visa-free to the country, becoming the latest nation on the continent to announce such a measure aimed at boosting free movement of people and trade to rival Europe’s Schengen zone.

President Paul Kagame made the announcement in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, where he pitched the potential of Africa as “a unified tourism destination” for a continent that still relies on 60% of its tourists from outside Africa, according to data from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

“Any African, can get on a plane to Rwanda whenever they wish and they will not pay a thing to enter our country” said Kagame during the 23rd Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council.

“We should not lose sight of our own continental market,” he said. “Africans are the future of global tourism as our middle class continues to grow at a fast pace in the decades to come.”

Once implemented, Rwanda will become the fourth African country to remove travel restrictions for Africans. Other countries that have waived visas to African nationals are Gambia, Benin and Seychelles.

Kenya’s President  announced Monday plans to allow all Africans to travel to the East African nation visa-free by December 31.

“Visa restrictions amongst ourselves is working against us. When people cannot travel, business people cannot travel, entrepreneurs cannot travel we all become net losers” said Ruto at an international summit in Congo Brazzaville.

The African Union in 2016 launched an African passport with much fanfare, saying it would rival the European Union model in “unleashing the potential of the continent.” However, only diplomats and AU officials have been issued the travel document so far.

The African Passport and free movement of people is “aimed at removing restrictions on Africans ability to travel, work and live within their own continent,” The AU says on its website.

AU also launched the the African Continental Free Trade Area, a continent-wide free trade area estimated to be worth $3.4 trillion, which aims to create a single unified market for the continent’s 1.3 billion people and to boost economic development.

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El Salvador Slaps a $1,000 Tax on Travelers From Africa and India



(Bloomberg) — El Salvador is charging passengers from Africa or India a $1,000 fee, in an apparent bid to curb migration to the US through the Central American country.

People traveling on passports from India or any one of more than 50 African nations will be obliged to pay the fee, El Salvador’s port authority said in a statement on its website dated Oct. 20.

The money raised will be used to improve the nation’s main international airport, the authority added.

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele this week met Brian Nichols, US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, to discuss “efforts to address irregular migration,” among other topics. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol encountered a record 3.2 million migrants across the country in fiscal year 2023, which ended in September.

Many migrants from Africa and elsewhere make it to the US via Central America.

Including VAT, the additional cost is $1,130 from travelers from the affected countries. The new fee took effect Oct. 23 and was imposed due to increased use of the country’s main international airport, according to the statement.

Airlines will be required to notify Salvadoran authorities daily of passengers who come from a list of 57 countries in Africa, and India.

Colombian airline Avianca, which is one of the hub’s biggest users, began notifying travelers that passengers from the list of countries must pay the mandatory fee before boarding flights to El Salvador.

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