Recently, French troops were ordered out of Mali by the government. Today, they are on their way out of neighboring Burkina Faso after the government there sent a request to leave.
France has 400 troops in Mali who now have barely a few weeks to leave after being in the country since 2018.
As if this was not enough, another request involves the replacement of the French ambassador after his comments on Mali’s security situation. A French government official stated that the ambassador had been recalled, but insisted that the move would not affect diplomatic relations.
So here we have two African nations asking a powerful colonial master, France, to take its soldiers and their belongings out of their countries.
Relations Gone Sour
It’s been 9 years since French troops entered the conflict to take control of the cities occupied by so-called Islamist extremists in Northern Mali. France decided to deploy troops to protect Malians and about 6,000 French citizens who reside in the country. As of August 15, 2022, France withdrew the last of its 2,400 troops from Mali, effectively abandoning the country in the fight against terrorism.
The question many are asking now is, why is this happening? In the beginning, the troops were received warmly, but over the years some Malians have felt that the French should have solved the problem and left. Other citizens deemed the troops’ continued presence as an attempt at occupation by France.
In France, the operation in the Sahel is not popular. Around 59 French soldiers were involved have been killed in action. For 9 years, Operation Barkhane aided in Mali’s fight against extremists in Northern Mali. The operation started with optimism. However, it came to an end in 2022 as both countries had disagreements.
The Significance of the Sahel Region
French President Emmanuel Macron alleged that Russia played a key role in Burkina Faso’s decision to discontinue its military presence. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized that his country did not interfere.
The United States has accused Russia of interference in the Sahel region. The US believes such activities have led to an increased risk of the growth of violent extremism. Russia has denied the accusations. Although the French downplay the significance of the Burkina Faso withdrawal, it could be interpreted as African countries making locals about their own national security.
Russian Influence in Africa Grows
Both Mali and Burkina Faso have strengthened relations with Russia. The presence of Russian operatives with the Wagner group, now designated as a terrorist group by the US government, may be to blame. The group is linked to the Kremlin. The West sees this as Russia occupying the void left after French troops vacated.
France for instance has accused Russia of predatory influence. It is concerning to see global powers worried about who is influencing African countries. But let’s keep in mind that Africa is a continent with 54 self-ruling states who get to decide who they interact with or work with. Only the African countries involved know what’s best for their citizens. Hence, they should be allowed to make decisions without foreign influence.