“It is clear that the situation as it is cannot continue. » It’s Jean-Yves Le Drian interviewed on Friday January 28 on RTL – and it’s probably only the Minister of Foreign Affairs (and perhaps a few high-ranking soldiers) who know what she means about the future of French troops in Mali. What is likely to persist, and even to worsen, is the gap between Paris and the junta in power in Bamako even though a third military putsch has just ousted the Burkinabé president, “democratically re-elected” in 2020, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.
The Malian transitional authorities wanted the departure of the sixty Danish soldiers who had joined Task Force Takuba based in Ménaka. A way of saying that the coalman is master in his own house. Except that in this matter the coalman, at least the one who led Mali in 2019 (late Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, IBK) had formally invited the Nordics to participate on the spot in the coalition of European special forces. Eventually the Danes decided to go home and it’s less anecdotal than some might imagine.
Push Paris to the fault
Their contingent included a C-130 transport plane, a cyber defense unit and a medical team, among others. Above all, the junta’s palinodies could encourage other partners (Romania, Lithuania, Norway, Hungary) to reconsider or minimize their participation in the Takuba force, essential in the plan to reorganize the military system announced by Emmanuel Macron. Florence Parly and Jean-Yves Le Drian were publicly moved by the news ” Provocation ” of the junta and, as if he was only waiting for this signal, Abdoulaye Diop, the Malian Minister for Foreign Affairs, one of the “hard” of the regime, immediately stepped up to denounce the “contempt for France” and recall that only Mali decides who can or cannot stay on its territory.
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The scenario is ready and, at each stage of the stiffening of relations between the two countries, aims to push Paris to the fault by revealing the intrinsic brutality of its policy. From this perspective, France should no longer appear as an ally called upon to fight jihadist terrorism, but as an occupying force that is both ineffective and whose real objectives have little to do with the interests of the populations.
Well-oiled anti-French storytelling
This story-telling, which moreover occasionally has its share of truth, has infused a lot and spread a lot in recent months. Very present on the social networks to which many young people in the region have access, it is relayed in France on some sites of the radical left. The recently bereaved French intervention is summarily analyzed there as the last attempt by a “mediocre power” to prolong the illusion of imperial grandeur.
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Incidentally, the Barkhane force is accused of having killed civilians in Niger (in Téra, Tillabéri region) last November when many demonstrators were actually trying to block a Barkhane convoy bound for the Gao base in Mali and having already passed through Burkina Faso. In this country, Barkhane’s convoy had been considerably hampered in its progress, in Bobo-Dioulasso (south-west), in the capital Ouagadougou (center) then in Kaya, about a hundred kilometers north-east of the capital. A few hundred, or even a few thousand demonstrators had expressed their distrust of a French army, even suspected by some, as in Mali, of arming the jihadists rather than fighting them…
A time preserved from the terrorist scourge, in a few years, Burkina has, so to speak, considerably caught up in this area: nearly 2,000 civilian victims sometimes suffering mass killings as last December in Solhan in the north of the country (160 dead, massacred) It is an understatement to say that the putsch hatched and led at the beginning of the week by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba was examined with a magnifying glass, both on the side of neighboring countries and in Paris and in the bodies of the various missions overseen by the UN (the Minusma among others.)
The reasons for this are a priori fairly well established: the chronic inability of President Kaboré’s team to appreciate the material deprivation of the army and its gendarmerie component in the face of attacks by the two major franchises of Islamist terrorism. The point of no return in the exasperation of the troops was reached when, on November 14, 2021, 53 gendarmes were massacred in Inata, in the so-called three-border zone, after having alerted the general staff of their drastic deprivations, to the point that they had to hunt for food.
Six days after the fall of Kaboré, we know a little more about the method of the putschists who first led people to believe in a vague mutiny without a future, on Saturday and Sunday January 21 and 22 when everything was already planned to take the reins of the country. And open a new front of decolonization ” anti-French? This is what Evgueni Prigojine, alias Putin’s cook, believed to discern, godfather if not leader of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner now well established in Mali? And why not tomorrow in Burkina…
A return of Françafrique to Burkina?
The first televised intervention of Lieutenant-Colonel Damiba does not seem to go in this direction. Without specifying the country, the fatigues officer pointed out that “Burkina Faso needs its partners more than ever” and invited “the international community to support our country so that it can emerge from this crisis as quickly as possible”.
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Would Paul-Henri Damiba be the anti Assimi Goïta and certainly not a clone of Mamady Doumbouya, the man who killed Alpha Condé in Guinea? A pure soldier for sure, passed in particular by the School of war of Paris and a time promoted in the presidential guard of Blaise Compaoré, the former strong man of Burkina. Precious ally of Francafrique for many years, suspected of being the presumed sponsor of the murder of Thomas Sankara on October 15, 1987 in Ouagadougou, the “beautiful Blaise” is in exile and obviously does not attend the historic trial of the fourteen other people accused of eliminating the ” West African Guevara ».
The street supports the putschists
That Damiba belonged to Conpaoré’s Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) was enough for some to construct the scenario of a multi-shot billiard operation set up by France. With the double objective of putting a docile pawn in power and, at the same time, an end to the Sankara trial, which is too threatening as to the role played by Paris in the sudden disappearance of the Pan-Africanist leader. None of that obviously. Suspended due to events, the trial will resume on January 31 and Damiba appears neither docile nor submissive but above all pragmatic.
For the time being, as in Bamako and to a lesser extent in Conakry, the street supports the putschists and the representatives of the trade unions like the parties seem to have to put up with it. It is an in-between situation, a probably unsatisfactory last resort in the long run of a democratic society but, with reservations, without the bloody brutality of a dictatorship. It will take tact and a little sense of “land” to all “partners” which Lieutenant-Colonel Damiba addresses to avoid a new deadlock.