The artillery captain who heads the military junta that has ruled Burkina Faso since the coup in September 2022, Ibrahim Traoré, has given France a month for its troops to leave the country, counting from January 22. The Gauls thus put an end to a stage of military cooperation with Burkina Faso that began in 2015. In less than six months, There are already three African nations that have slammed the door on Paris: first it was Mali, in August; then came the Central African Republic, in the month of December; and Burkina Faso has joined the growing list of countries in January. The three countries have instead landed in the paws of the Russian bear, which offers a partnership in military matters through the Wagner Group. For an exemplary payment of around 10 million dollars a month (which can be made by granting mines within the nations involved, in the absence of cash), mercenaries do in Africa what France did for free.
A region that slips through your fingers
French journalist Rémi Carayol wrote in his recent book, The Sahelian mirage, on the accumulation of errors committed by France in this troubled region. In his opinion, “the French army, steeped in colonial ideology and caught up in outdated ‘War on Terror’ schemes, is incapable of correctly analyzing the situation.” Past failures and France’s avoidance of responsibilities (The aerial bombardment of a wedding in Mali caused a special shock in January 2021, where three terrorists and twenty civilians were killed while France denied all responsibility), added to the inevitable memory of the colonial past, have ended up taking their toll on Paris. Thus, up to 6,000 French soldiers have been forced to leave the continent since mid-2022, in exchange for the entry of nearly 3,000 troops from the Wagner Group.
To the undeniable mistakes of France would add the growing Russian presence in the region. From Moscow they have known how to channel the situation and take it to their land, sowing in a previously fertilized field. A fundamental step for Putin’s ambitions in Africa has been the creation of pro-Russian pressure groups, such as the Yerewolo movement in Mali, which have served as a trigger for social movements that called for the expulsion of France in exchange for a russian entry. Once the capital, Bamako, was convinced of the need to expel the French from the country, it only had to spread the word for rural areas to blindly join a movement disguised as pan-Africanism. The same has happened with Burkina and the Central African Republic, while similar dynamics are feared in Niger, or in Senegal if Ousmane Sonko wins the 2024 elections.
Emmanuel Macron, who must be pulling his hair out between the ornate walls of the Elysée, does his best to stop the bleeding, ordering his generals to change strategies, putting the French media to work at full speed, entertaining the leaders Africans who still receive him…. Last November he even announced the end of the Barkhane operation in the fight against terrorism, which had been operating in the Sahel for more than eight years to combat radical Islamists in collaboration with African governments . In exchange for the end of Barkhane, Macron offered a new kind of partnership based on “reducing the visibility of military forces in Africa to focus on cooperation and support in terms of military equipment, intelligence and operational partnership.” The idea of the French president was to appease the voices that accuse his country of following a strategy directed towards “neocolonialism”, sustained by a strong military presence in the region.
But the results have not been as desired. Ortega y Gasset already said regarding the relationship between Castilla and Catalonia that “the man condemned to live with a woman whom he does not love feels her caresses as an irritating touch of chains”. In a similar way, Africans feel French caresses, whose touch resonates with the echo of the chains of a past that is still close to many. This attitude was reflected in the declarations of the new Burkinabe leader on February 3, when he stated in a public act that “as they (the French) have said, our sovereignty is up to us, and that is what we are expressing through the denunciation of this (military) agreement”.
Practices that are maintained
On the other hand, France is reluctant to completely abandon the practices that accuse it of being necolonialist. They are well known the rumors that speak of African wrestlers integrated into the Foreign Legion and who are sent to the rural areas of the Sahel to “play jihadists” in order to keep the region unstable. Added to this is the complex situation in the Ivory Coast, where its president gained power thanks to French military support, or the issuance of the CFA franc via Paris that prevents West African countries from achieving effective economic independence.
A fundamental fact to take into account and that analysts generally overlook is the attitude of French expatriates towards Africans. Russian disinformation would be of no use if African citizens did not experience firsthand the disdain with which they are treated by the French who inhabit the former colonies. If the Russians spoke out against the French but the Africans saw something different in their direct dealings with them, it is obvious that the Kremlin’s efforts would fall on deaf ears. But a walk through the Les Almadies neighborhood (Dakar) is enough to find dozens of young Frenchmen being served by Senegalese in restaurants on the beach, while capricious twenty-something girls yell at the waiters because they brought them the wrong dish. The African clenches his fists like this and bites his lips, thinking with pleasure about the anti-French demonstration in which he will participate next weekend. Macron and his generals thus configure new strategies in vain, strategies that do not take into account such a fundamental aspect as the basic respect of French expatriates for Africans.
The Kremlin appropriates mines, promotes killings without responsibility and supports the seizure of power by the military, hiding all this under a thick layer of “respect” that charms and convinces an African who is suddenly willing to die and kill. for Russia… who in return would never give a penny for him.