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18 May, 2024 07:30

African state’s PM calls for end to French ‘occupation’

A third of the Senegalese capital region is occupied by foreign bases, according to its PM
African state’s PM calls for end to French ‘occupation’

Senegalese Prime Minister Ousmane Sonko has suggested closing French military bases in the country, claiming their long-term presence is incompatible with the West African nation’s desire for complete control over its affairs.

The minister made the remarks at a joint conference with the French left-wing politician Jean-Luc Melenchon in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, on Thursday.

“More than 60 years after our independence... we must question the reasons why the French army for example still benefits from several military bases in our country and the impact of this presence on our national sovereignty and our strategic autonomy,” Sonko said.

France currently has about 350 troops in Senegal after it began downsizing the contingent of 1,200 based there in 2010. Critics have condemned the troops’ presence as a continuation of French dominance over the former colony, despite independence in 1960.

On Thursday, Sonko, a popular former opposition leader who became prime minister after his hand-picked presidential candidate, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, won a landslide in elections in March, said several countries have promised Senegal defense agreements.

“But this does not justify the fact that a third of the Dakar region is now occupied by foreign garrisons,” he said.

Senegal’s neighbors – military-ruled Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger – have all turned to Russia for security assistance after expelling French troops. The three West African nations have accused the former colonial power of internal meddling and failing to tackle jihadist insurgencies in the Sahel region after more than a decade of operations.

Ouagadougou, Bamako, and Niamey have also formed an alliance of Sahel states and jointly announced in January their exit from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The military authorities accused the 15-nation regional bloc, which has long pressed them to restore democratic rule, of serving foreign interests and posing a threat to their countries.

In his speech, Sonko declared that Senegal would deepen relations with the coup-installed governments in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

“We will not let go of our brothers in the Sahel and we will do everything necessary to strengthen the ties,” the prime minister stated.

He also said Senegal, which shares the euro-pegged CFA Franc currency with seven other countries, would prefer a flexible currency to help absorb shocks and boost export competitiveness. President Faye had initially pledged to abandon the CFA Franc during the election campaign but later backtracked.

Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali have hinted at ditching the CFA Franc in favor of a common currency, a move Niamey has called a “step out of colonization.”

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