Today, France is convinced on the rise of a feeling of rejection on the part of the African population towards her, especially those in her former colonies. This disenchantment, which is evident in North, Central and West Africa, has grown with the accusations recently targeting the ambiguous role of French troops deployed in the Sahel, where Jihadists continue to spread chaos without a moment’s hesitation. The summit scheduled for 16 December 2019 in Pau between Emmanuel Macron and the presidents of Sahel G5 countries, has been postponed to the beginning of 2020. If the summit is aimed at questioning the future of the French military presence in the Sahel strip, then its postponement by Elysée is a move which is in line with the anti-French sentiment which is gaining ground in French-speaking African countries.
While some political actors on the continent are wondering whether this meeting is the appropriate solution to resolve this problem, wanting to attribute this resentment to the security issue alone is naïve because we know that Paris is indexed in another stormy subject, such as the maintenance of African countries in the franc zone, its interference in the political affairs of the continent and its impact on the African economies.
A Summon Deemed Arrogant and Contemptuous
It is precisely in Pau, a symbolic place, since it is the headquarters of the 5th combat helicopter regiment to which seven of the commando soldiers killed in Mali belonged, that the French president chose to host his meeting with the presidents of the Sahel G5 countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad, Mauritania). As the regional organization has its headquarters in Africa, more precisely in Nouakchott, Mauritania, the French leader, who wants to enlighten the shadows, according to a certain African opinion, should have travelled to the continent instead of summoning the five presidents of the said organization to France.
For this summit whose objective is to evaluate the French military presence in the Sahel and to redefine if need be, the bases of a new partnership has been coined by Emmanuel Macron as a “clarification” meeting. Speaking on the subject at a press conference during the NATO summit in Watford, England, where the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was being celebrated, he was visibly annoyed by the accusations targeting Barkhane, France’s largest overseas operation.
“I do not want to have French soldiers on any soil in the Sahel, even though ambiguity persists with regard to anti-French movements, sometimes led by politicians”.
In his remarks, the head of the Elysée also cited the responsibility of certain African politicians who, in his opinion, stir up this hatred of France for ulterior motives and through political speeches tinged with nationalism.
Though Emmanuel Macron assures us that he wants to have an honest tête-à-tête with his African peers, the paternalistic tone of this convocation is judged by some to be disrespectful and tinged with arrogance. In Burkina Faso, Me Benewendé Sankara of the Sankarist party, the Union for the rebirth speaks of an initiative that is tantamount to a lack of consideration towards the presidents of the Sahel G5 countries. The president of UNIRS/BF also stresses that this French paternalism is out of step with the current times when we are dealing with a mature African youth that no longer wants to be governed by procuration.
Mr Ambroise Farama, President of the Organisation of African Peoples-Burkina Faso OPA-BF, also points out the arrogance and discourteousness perceived in the French President’s summons, aspects which should be condemned. As for the content of the invite, Emmanuelle Macron considers that through this meeting, the five presidents of the Sahel G5, are called upon to clarify things on the rise of anti-imperialist movements emerging in their countries and to formalize a request to France and the international community on the renewal of a possible commitment. The Burkinabé lawyer, on behalf of his movement, also calls on the heads of state of the Sahel G5 to take no action on this summons.
An Increasingly Contested Military Presence
Since its launch in 2014, Operation Barkhane, which benefits from a partnership with the UN forces deployed in Mali (UNAMID) and the Sahel G5 countries, has not succeeded in curbing the fervour of the terrorist groups swarming in the Sahel. The terrorist threat that has been present in northern Mali since 2012 has crossed Mali’s borders and now affects neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Welcomed as heroes in 2012 when the Tuareg-dominated rebellion wanted to take over the North of Mali, French soldiers under Operation Serval nevertheless succeeded in repelling the Jihadist progression that wanted to seize the centre of the country in 2013.
Today, the mission of these troops, which is to fight terrorist groups and support local armies, is subject to questioning. Grouped together under the aegis of al-Qaeda, Daesh and other autonomous movements, the Jihadists are reigning terror in the Sahel, despite the presence of nearly 20,000 foreign troops who benefit from adequate logistics and equipment as well as support from local armies. This outcome of events is difficult to understand in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and this has led to the perception that this foreign army has a hidden agenda. Since September, more than 170 Malian and Burkinabe soldiers have been killed in the Sahel. Early December 2019, the Niger army suffered its heaviest loss of life in an attack on a camp in the west of the country that claimed the lives of 71 soldiers.
This was enough to stir up the anger of the populations in these three countries, who are applying pressure through numerous protests against the inertia of the foreign armies in place and are demanding their departure.
In Mali, after the massacre in April 2019 of 160 inhabitants of a Fulani village in Ogossagou, about 10,000 people walked the streets of Bamako under the call of Muslim religious leaders and civil society organizations. Their criticism was directed at President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and the Barkhane force. In Niger, a thousand-people invaded the capital Niamey in May 2019 to protest against the presence of foreign military bases in the country, particularly French ones, and their laxity in the face of the increase in terrorist attacks.
The demonstrators, most of whom were schoolchildren and students were also keen, through this march, to show their solidarity with the country’s regular army, which is under attack from terrorist groups. In Burkina Faso, several civil society organizations also organized meetings in the capital Ouagadougou to denounce the presence of foreign forces in Africa.
The French Army at the Centre of Many Accusations
France is accused by the countries of the Sahel of playing into the hands of the Jihadists to justify maintaining its military presence in the region. According to these claims, French soldiers carry out strikes against the national army military bases in order to prolong terrorist violence. Foreign armies on African soil are also accused of promoting the exploitation of natural resources such as gold, diamonds, uranium, gas and oil, among others. France, which through the Orano group (formerly Areva), which has been exploiting mines in north-western Niger for more than 50 years, is the world’s fourth-largest producer of uranium, while Niger is among the world’s poorest countries. Other complaints also mention the maintenance of, foreign troops for juicy traffic of human organs in the Sahel. The African media, including Tchadinfo.com, which mentioned this, claimed that living or dead terrorists are sold to the French who strip them of their organs. The bodies of African soldiers who died on the battlefield also undergo this torture before being sent to their families in hermetically sealed and padlocked boxes.
While Emmanuel Macron wishes to legitimize the French military presence in Africa by demanding answers from the presidents of the Sahel G5, the responsibility falls on the African leaders to demand clarity from France regarding its alleged support for terrorists and the ambiguous role of its army in the Sahel region. It is this honest language that the international artist Salif Keita would like the Malian president to use with his French counterpart. In a video entitled “Il faut que je parle. Le Mali avant tout”, published on his facebook page, he invites the president to tell the Malian people the truth about France’s true role in the fight against terrorism.
“If you’re afraid to tell the truth to France, if you can’t manage this country, leave power, the one who’s not afraid will take it, you spend your time submitting to this little Emmanuel Macron, he’s a kid… Don’t you know that it’s France that finances our enemies against our children?”
Whether it finances terrorism in the Sahel or not, France has in the 21st century, become the object of growing rejection by her former African colonies. Beyond the security issue, where its motivations in the fight against terrorism are being questioned, the anti-French sentiment which is taking on proportions on the continent, according to many analysts, is as a result of the African population being fed up, especially the youth for whom the neo-colonial guardianship of Paris, 60 years after independence, is proving to be the first brake on the emancipation and development of French-speaking African countries.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Photo Credit : google image/illustration