France pushed out by the former colonies

(To Antonino Lombardi)

Within a month, the approximately 400 soldiers of the French forces of the "Sabre" operation will have to leave the territory of Burkina Faso. A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry confirmed that the Burkinabe government had sent a written request for French troops to leave its territory, "we will respect the terms of the agreement by honoring this request" he added. The special forces stationed in Ouagadougou will most likely be redeployed in neighboring Niger which already hosts almost 2000 men while there are around 3000 throughout the Sahel.

It is the same scene already seen in Mali and the Central African Republic. Operation "Barkhane" ended last year in Mali after nine years of war and 58 soldiers killed, leaving that country in the hands of jihadism and the group Wagner. On 15 December 2022, however, the French army left the Central African Republic.

Burkina Faso, after not one but two coups last year, has seen numerous anti-French street demonstrations and has embarked on an intense cooperation with Russia that appears to be following in Malian footsteps even though the French presence in that country it was much more consistent.

Tensions between France and Burkina Faso have escalated recently. In November, popular demonstrations targeted the French embassy in Ouagadougou and, in December, the Burkinabe government demanded the removal of the French ambassador, Luc Hallade, after remarks deemed offensive. Already in July, before the coup d'etat by Ibrahim Traorè, during a hearing, Ambassador Hallade had reported that "part of the population rebels against the state and tries to overthrow it" and even if the diplomatic bodies had sought clarification on the matter, the relationship between Paris and Ouagadougou suffered a bad blow.

Captain Traorè's rise to power in September led Burkina Faso to diversify their international relations, especially as regards the fight against jihadism.

In a March 2022 evaluation, the Center for Security and International Studies (CSIS) stated that the French failures to initiate profound reforms of governance have “helped fuel the expansion of jihadist violence from northern Mali to the central region, as well as to Niger, Burkina Faso and the northern borders of Benin and Côte d'Ivoire.”

The ineffectiveness of Operation Barkhane and the general French failure in the Sahel to fight Islamic extremism has exacerbated anti-French sentiment. The inability to counter JNIM (Group for the support of Islam and Muslims) and ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara) has caused much disappointment compared to the excessive initial expectations.

Operation "Sabre" began at the request of Burkina Faso but has rarely operated on the ground. However, the general discontent with French policy in Africa is certainly not recent but has also been amplified by the increasingly important Russian presence in the Sahel.

The French embassy and institutes in Ouagadougou, the capital, and Bobo-Dioulasso, the country's second largest city, were set on fire by protesters in the autumn. In the aftermath of the violence suffered by the French structures, the general consulate of the embassy had decided to suspend the processing of visa applications on diplomatic and service passports, directing the Burkinabé applicants to a private supplier, motivating the move as the cause of the looting of the offices and equipment of the consular service. More recently, suspected jihadists abducted some 60 women who were scavenging for food in the north of the country, and earlier this month, the bodies of 28 people who had been killed in the northwestern city of Nouna were found. The women have since been released.

Does Russia Boost Anti-French Sentiment? Will distrust of France continue to spread so rapidly in the former colonies?

Photo: Ministère des Armées