June 18, 2021

In Mali, mixed reactions at the end of Operation “Barkhane”

Colonel Assimi Goïta, the new interim president, knew he was on the French radar since his May 24 coup. The suspension of bilateral military cooperation announced by Paris on June 3 was a first warning signal sent to the junta.

Within the state apparatus, we also knew that Emmanuel Macron would undoubtedly benefit from this second coup in less than nine months to “To rush into the breach” and announce a downsizing of “Barkhane”, dear to the French president since the N’Djamena summit last February. But the announcement of the end of the foreign operation on June 11 is for Bamako a “Brutal surprise” who, behind the scenes, worries the authorities for the moment remained publicly silent.

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Colonel Goïta and his Prime Minister Choguel Maïga believed they had given sufficient guarantees to the international community, in particular respecting the electoral calendar supposed to put an end to the transition in February 2022. A road map, “Outlining the main lines of government action to respect the various commitments made”, was to be presented by the end of July and a government “Largely civilian” appointed in the next few days.

” Good riddance “

On June 9, the heads of neighboring states even had “Congratulated” and “Encouraged” the new authorities. This June 11, the words of Emmanuel Macron, criticizing their “Decision to recognize a military putschist”, went badly in Bamako. Just like the red line of negotiations with the jihadists mentioned by the French president.

“Emmanuel Macron should pay attention to his communication. When it takes on a certain tone, the Malians experience it as interference. It can be understood ”, underlines the former minister Ibrahim N’Diaye. In December 2019, the summons to Pau of the heads of state of the G5 Sahel by the French president had already been deemed to be undiplomatic. A year and a half later, the Paris speech is perceived by some Malians as “One more affront”, in a context of rising anti-French presence sentiment in recent months.

” Good riddance “, we heard this June 11 in Bamako. After eight years of French military intervention and results to say the least contrasted, a large fringe of Malians rejects the responsibility for the extension of terrorism on France. Paris would be militarily inefficient and politically too invasive.

“Risk of State collapse”

But in northern Mali, the story is different. “The Bamakois did not know the war! They cry out to France to leave, without understanding that the day when “Barkhane” retires, Mali will be over. The jihadists will seize the cities as at the start of the war in 2012 ”, alarmed a former rebel from the north, signatory of the 2015 peace agreement.

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Concern is also spreading to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (Minusma). This June 11, a few hours before Emmanuel Macron’s announcement, his leader El-Ghassim Wane spoke of his fears: “The suspension of French cooperation with Mali could induce an increase in the tasks of Minusma” and “It is also possible that more pressure could be exerted on our troops.” Minusma, whose mandate is not to fight terrorism and which sees its bases regularly targeted by attacks (fourteen in the last three months), fears isolation.

Some diplomats fear for their part a flight of the few civilian administrators still stationed in northern Mali (14% at the end of April according to the UN), if “Barkhane” were to reduce its influence. “The risk of the collapse of the state is real”, slips one of them. Even if, for now, “Nothing is predictable, everything becomes possible”.