Can France influence the junta in Mali?



Insurgent attacks are likely to increase

Boubacar Salif Traore

Director of Afriglob Conseil, specialist in security issues

We have no readability as to the intervention of President Emmanuel Macron. He and his Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, have taken the decision to suspend joint operations with the Malian forces unrelated to what is happening here. They talk about a measure “Conservatory and temporary” in “The expectation of guarantees that the Malian colonels will return power to civilians after elections scheduled for February 2022 ”.

But today, the fact of setting up a civilian government is a given: it is the trajectory of the transition. The new president of the transition, Colonel Assimi Goïta, has clearly said that there will be a civilian prime minister from the June 5 Movement-Rassemblement des forces patriotiques (1). The future government will be made up of civilians and headed by a civilian.

Regarding the elections promised in 2022, the debate is not at this level for me. The country being in a difficult position, it is very difficult to say that they will be doing well in a year.

Undeniably, the French decision to stop military cooperation will have a negative impact on the morale of Malian troops, but also on civilians who will no longer see French soldiers patrolling with Malian soldiers. Finally, this decision will further motivate the insurgents: they risk increasing attacks against Malian positions and even, no doubt, against those held by France.

We should not play with fire in these circumstances and that is unfortunately what President Macron is doing. We have seen the result of the American intervention in Afghanistan: more than twenty years of presence, 100,000 dead, billions of dollars spent to finally withdraw in favor of the Taliban.

Today, France is about to experience the same sequence. As we know, she has been imagining for a while her withdrawal from Mali and, subsequently, from the Sahel: more and more French politicians think that she has already lost, politically, her war here. The prospect of the presidential election also plays a role. A recently published poll showed that a majority of French people are for the end of Operation Barkhane.

In Mali, the currents that denounce the French presence see in the suspension of military cooperation proof that Paris is playing a troubled game in the country.

Collected by Boubacar Haidara (in Mali)

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The challenge is to know the real motivations of Colonel Goïta

Nicolas Normand

Former diplomat and independent researcher

In my eyes, the appointment of a new government by Colonel Assimi Goïta is not really the problem for Paris. France does not expect much from this side because the new transitional government will have no weight in the exercise of power in Mali. Everything will be decided, again, on the side of Colonel Goïta, whose investiture is scheduled for Monday, June 7 before the Constitutional Court.

By suspending its military cooperation with Mali, France is not seeking to influence the composition of the new government, but rather to finally obtain a clarification of the real motivations of Colonel Goïta. The reasons put forward by the latter to justify the latest coup – officially the sidelining of two colonels from the junta by Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, in agreement with President Bah N’Daw – are not credible or sufficient for Paris. Something else happened there. But what ?

France is awaiting clear explanations of Assimi Goïta’s intentions in order to restore confidence very damaged by this series of coups d’état. Partnership between the two countries is only possible and viable if it is based on mutual sincerity. If this is not the case, then Paris will stop Operation Barkhane.

Among the points of disagreement with the direction taken by the putschist authorities is the question of negotiation with the jihadists. For the Élysée, this is out of the question. For Mali, there is debate. We know that with the group linked to the Islamic State, dialogue is impossible, because it is rejected by the latter. On the other hand, the group linked to Al-Qaida – led by Iyad Ag Ghali – is less closed from this point of view. This dialogue is also desired by a part of the Malians, undoubtedly a minority.

Anyway, Colonel Goïta must clearly explain what he wants to do. Opening negotiations with Iyad Ag Ghali means moving towards an Islamic Republic. Why not, if it’s like Mauritania. If we are heading towards an Islamic dictatorship where women are out of school, freedoms suspended in favor of a sectarian and violent reading of Islam, France will withdraw from Mali. But I don’t think that’s the direction Colonel Goïta wants to take.

It must also commit to returning power to civilians. Washington has taken the same step for this purpose. For their part, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Mali: Bamako is today very isolated. I do not believe that Russia has the means to come to its aid.

For the moment, there is no alternative to military support from France, and Colonel Goïta knows it. If he is a patriot, there is a way to come to an understanding with him to fight against the jihadists. In that sense, I am therefore quite optimistic.

Collected by Laurent Larcher

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