The Next EU Military Deployment in West Africa

EU plans to launch new military mission in four West African coastal countries to prevent the loss of all military presence in the Sahel, after a possible inevitable withdrawal from Niger.

BERLIN/BRUSSELS/ABIDJAN (Own report) – The EU plans to launch a new military mission in West Africa. According to reports prior to the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Toledo yesterday (Thursday), soldiers and police officers are to be deployed in the northern regions of four countries at the Gulf of Guinea (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin). Jihadi insurgencies threaten to spread to these regions, against which EU states have been fighting for nearly a decade in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – without any success. The deployment aims at securing an EU military presence in the central Sahel in case France and the EU are forced to withdraw from Niger. Major forces within the Nigerien population are planning to demonstrate their support for the withdrawal – beginning this Sunday near the French military base in Niamey. In its new military mission, the EU is cooperating with governments, which are calling for a military intervention in Niger to overthrow the junta. Berlin and the EU have had a presence in the Gulf of Guinea, for quite a while. The EU is deploying ships against piracy, while Berlin is providing finances for training military personnel for deployments abroad.

Withdrawal from the Sahel

The new EU mission planned for West Africa is intended to prevent European governments from soon being forced to abandon their military presence in the Sahel’s main hotspot. Mali is lost to them for the foreseeable future. France has long since withdrawn its troops, which had been stationed there in accordance with a bi-lateral agreement. Units from the EU, deployed within the framework of the UN MINUSMA force – including more than a thousand German soldiers – must leave Mali by the end of the year.[1] France has also had to withdraw its troops from Burkina Faso. The original plan to have Niger serve as a major substitute deployment location – for the French and EU troops – is about to canceled due to the putsch in Niamey. Niger’s junta has abrogated the military agreements with France. The deadline for French withdrawal is set for the beginning of September. Paris refuses to remove its troops from the country – how long it can persist is unclear. Nigerian civil organizations have called for demonstrations against the French military presence beginning this Sunday. Abrogation of EU deployment agreements have not yet been announced. Troops from the EU and Germany depend on the French military presence for their security.

Substitute Deployment Locations

The EU wants to take advantage of the fact that jihadi militia attacks are now beginning to spread in the Sahel to countries to the south of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. It seeks to station its troops in the north of four countries at the coast of the Gulf of Guinea – in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin – under the pretext of seeking to halt the advance of the jihadis. Considering the record of the European countries and the EU’s missions in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, there are little grounds for hoping that especially the EU will be able to effectively help with this new mission. Nowhere in the Sahel has it proven capable, over the past few years, of weakening the jihadis. On the contrary, the jihadis are stronger now than before. Specifically, the new EU mission is supposed to train and advise local security forces of the four countries, according to an EU spokeswoman. Soldiers from EU member countries will help prepare for “anti-terror operations,” giving technical support and allegedly “to enhance social and economic conditions of the local population.”[2] The mission is expected to initially last two years. However, traditionally EU missions are always prolonged. The number of deployed police officers and soldiers is still to be determined. The mission is set to be formally launched by EU foreign ministers at their next regular meeting in October.

Bombed into Office by France

The EU’s new deployment plans are primarily relying on two countries playing central roles in the discussion of a military intervention to overthrow the junta in Niger – Côte d’Ivoire and Benin. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara had announced his intention to prepare around a thousand soldiers for the possible intervention in Niger. In the course of disputed election results in the spring of 2011, Ouattara, a former Vice Director of the IMF,[3] had, himself, been heaved into power by a French military intervention. The French military reduced the presidential palace to rubble in the overthrow of the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo. Ouattara ran for a third term in 2020, even though the Ivorian constitution only allows two terms of office. The election was boycotted by the opposition, after the Ivorian judiciary banned the main opposition candidates Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro from running. Benin, on the other hand, has also promised troops for the possible ECOWAS war on Niger. Its common border with Niger is considered one of the possible launching positions for the invasion. Currently, by maintaining the closure of its border to Niger, as a means of imposing sanctions, Benin is withholding vital supplies for Niger’s needy population.[4]

Military Training and Naval Presence

Militarily, Germany and the EU would be blazing no new trails in West Africa. Ghana, for example, is home to the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center (KAIPTC), where soldiers and police from West Africa are being trained for foreign missions. The KAIPTC was inaugurated in January 2004 in the presence of the German Chancellor, at the time, Gerhard Schröder and has been co-funded by the German government ever since.[5] In addition, Germany has helped train and equip Ghana’s military. From 2009 – 2017 Germany had funded the creation of a Ghanian engineer unit with nearly €11 million and accorded Accra another €8.2 million from 2017 – 2020 for the creation of a mobile command post.[6] The EU is also engaged in anti-piracy combat in the Gulf of Guinea. Thus, in early 2021, it began dispatching warships into those waters. Then in early 2022, the initially one-year Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) pilot program was granted a two-year extension.[7] On the one hand, this naval presence provides exclusive knowledge of what is happening in that maritime region for the troops involved, and on the other, it contributes to developing ties to neighboring West African militaries.

Coup in Gabon

It remains uncertain, whether the coup in Gabon will have an impact on the plans for the EU’s military operation in West Africa. Gabon’s overthrown President Ali Bongo is considered one of Africa’s most corrupt partisans of France. It is not yet clear whether the coup that removed Bongo from power – to the jubilation of large portions of the population – following a presumably heavily rigged election victory will have an impact on relations between Libreville and Paris. According to allegations in Paris, the coup may merely be the result of a power struggle between rival sectors of the ruling elite, without having an impact on the foreign policy.[8] However, it is not at all certain that the strong West African opposition to the former colonial power, France, has not also taken root in Gabon. In the meantime, to maintain a margin of maneuver, EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell has declared that the coup d’état that was carried out in Gabon cannot be equated with that in Niger. Bongo’s return to the presidency is not really being demanded. Should the junta in Libreville reach an agreement with Paris, Paris and the EU could at least somewhat consolidate their positions on Africa. If that does not happen, Europe’s withdrawal from its former African colonies will have proceeded another step further.


[1] See also On the Path Toward Independence.

[2] Alexandra Brzozowski: EU plans new Africa mission in Gulf of Guinea. 30.08.2023.

[3] See also Der Mann vom IWF und Das Recht des Stärkeren (II).

[4] See also Tödliche Sanktionen.

[5] See also Big Push.

[6] See also Catching up in Africa.

[7] Maritime Diplomacy: How Coordinated Maritime Presence (CMP) serves EU interest globally. 22.07.2022.

[8] Philippe Ricard, Elise Vincent: Gabon : la France à l’épreuve d’un nouveau coup d’Etat dans son ancient pré carré africain. 31.08.2023.