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Does France risk losing Mali?

Boubacar Haidara, professor at the University of Segou (Central Mali) associate researcher at the laboratory Les Afriques dans le monde…

Boubacar Haidara, professor at the University of Segou (Central Mali) associate researcher at the laboratory Les Afriques dans le monde (LAM) at the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne, break for Apanews the possible consequences of France suspension of its military cooperation with Mali.Interview by Lemine Ould M.Salem

Does France’s decision to suspend its military cooperation with Mali come as a surprise?

France had not appreciated what President Emmanuel Macron described in an interview which appeared in the latest edition of the Journal du Dimanche as a “coup within a coup.” 

He was referring to the overthrow on 24 May of the transitional president Bah Ndaw and his Prime Minister Moctar Ouane who were supposed to lead Mali towards general elections aimed at normalising political life after the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta last August by the same army officers.

In the same interview, the French head of state did threaten to withdraw his troops if the coup plotters did not respect their promise to organise a democratic transition in accordance with the timetable already set, or if they were tempted by a slide towards radical Islamism.

However, since the decisions taken by ECOWAS and the African Union to suspend Mali from all activities within their bodies, the French authorities have backed the move.

France’s decision to suspend military cooperation with Mali, which have been fighting jihadist groups in the north since 2013, was therefore not expected, despite the strong words of the French president last weekend. In Bamako, these remarks were perceived more as an additional pressure on the putschists than as an idea seriously considered by the French. This decision therefore comes as a real surprise.

 What would be the possible consequences of such a decision on the ground?

Although France is not announcing a withdrawal of its 5,100 soldiers from Mali and the rest of the Sahel, it is cutting off all cooperation with the Malian army on the ground. This decision, which means that Operation Barkhane will henceforth act alone on the ground, is accompanied by the immediate cessation of all aid to the Malian armed and security forces. This decision is likely to have a heavy impact on the work of the Malian military in the field. They now find themselves helpless in the face of increasingly numerous and violent jihadist fighters. In other words, this decision is full of risks for Mali and the Sahel such as opening the gates for the jihadists, who have still not given up their initial ambition of  taking control of the whole country.

What can the Malian military do after such a suspension of French cooperation?

Their choices are limited. One extreme but not impossible scenario is that the coup plotters, who have always claimed to be willing to talk to the jihadists, will embark on a rapprochement with them. In the absence of a formal peace agreement, they could consider making major concessions to obtain at least a cease-fire. Contacts exist between the two parties. Members of the High Islamic Council, which is a state body, are in contact with Malian leaders of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, better known by its Arabic acronym JNIM.

The coup plotters may also want to replace the French army with that of another power such as Russia or Turkey, whose ambitions in Africa are increasingly coming to the surface.

 These two scenarios are not mutually exclusive. If they were to be translated into reality, it would not only be dangerous for Mali and the Sahel sub-region. It would also mean the outright failure of France’s military intervention in Mali.

 

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