Is France supporting terrorism in Mali?
The Malian government has accused France of supporting terrorism in Mali. Are the accusations credible? If so, what are the implications for French and European geo-strategy in Africa in the context of NATO’s escalating war against Russia?
On 10 July, 49 soldiers from the Ivory Coast were arrested while attempting to transit Bamako airport in Mali. The Malian government sought explanation from the government of the Ivory Coast, but to no avail. Since seizing power in a military coup in 2020, the junta led by Colonel Assimi Goïta has been publicly opposed by the government of the Ivory Coast. Abidjan maintains that the soldiers were in Bamako as part of the UN’s MINUSMA mission. But the Malian government says it has proof that this is not the case.
The detailed reported published by the Malian government outlines all the violations of protocol committed by the 49 troops, backing up their claim that the soldiers were in the country for the purposes of regime change. For example, the soldiers were disguised as students and tradesmen.
Colonel Assimi Goïta is under no illusion about the purpose of the mission in Bamako: to replace the current junta with a government approved by France. Everyone in Mali suspects Paris to be behind the current climate of unrest in Mali.
In a historical move, the Malian government has written a letter of complaint to the United Nations accusing France of providing intelligence to terrorist groups in Mali in an effort to overthrow the current junta. The French media are unanimously dismissing these accusations. But do they have some credibility? A cursory look at the involvement of France in the region over the past decade will show that Malian accusations are cogent and highly credible.
French regime change in the Ivory Coast
French geo-strategy in Africa is about as complex as the continental and ethnic terrain itself. But a key Neo-colony since ‘independence’ has been the Ivory Coast. Run for many decades by pro-French Felix Houphouet-Boigny, much of the country’s wealth was confiscated by an oligarchy entirely dependent on France. The neocolonial regime in the Ivory Coast was opposed by left populist leader Laurent Gbagbo, who took power in 2000.
But Gbagbo, who wanted more independence from France, was opposed by Paris. From 2003 onward, the French were backing rebel forces in the country led by Alassane Ouattara, a former IMF official.
Gbagbo’s hopes of reform were dashed in 2010 when the French bombed the capital Abidjan, ignobly arresting Gbagbo and his wife, and installing Ouattara as president.
Ouattara’s forces committed many heinous atrocities that were played down by the French media, such as the massacre of Duékoué on 2 April, 2011 when 800 civilians— an entire village— were burned to death.
Upon seizing power, Ouattara unleashed a reign of terror on supporters of the former president. The Ivory Coast was once again a colonial plantation. A key French strategy in the takeover of the Ivory Coast was to use mercenary forces from neighbouring Burkina Faso, which was a base for French intelligence operations in the region.
A similar strategy is being used now to destabilise Mali. Paris is providing support to Jihadist terrorists in an effort to undermine national security in a country where the French have lost power and influence.
French invasion of Mali
In 2013, just months after bombing Libya and assassinating its leader, the French invaded Mali under the pretext of fighting Al-Qaida terrorists. Initially, the Malian government had been fighting a Touareg rebellion in the north of the country. The situation was complicated, however, by the presence of jihadist forces, who multiplied in the region following the Western-backed destabilisation of Libya.
But the French occupation of the country soon posed problems, with critics of the Malian government accusing their French partners of attempting to divide the country. Many suspected that the French would do a deal with the Touaregs in the north which would facilitate their project of a separate Republic of Azawad, the northern region of Mali claimed by the Touareg separatists.
Disorder and discontent in the country had already led to the coup by General Sanogo in 2012. The Malian military had been unhappy with President Amadou Toumani Touré’s war against the northern separatist and Al Qaeda-linked groups.
Pro-French Ibrahim Boubacar Keita ran the country from 2013 till his removal in a military coup on August 18, 2020. Colonel Assimi Goïta is currently the president of the National Committee for Salvation of the People, Mali’s interim government.
The situation in Mali is complicated by the involvement of other European countries. Apart from gaining access to one of the world’s largest reserves of gold, the French presence in Mali is also about military power project. The French want to control the entire Sahel region. They also want to be the leading component of a European army. Mali has been an important training ground for French and European military operations. During Operation Barkhane, France’s mission in Mali, Paris enlisted the support of key partners in NATO’s war against Russia, such as Estonia who had up to 90 troops in Mali.
Since 2021, the French-led military coalition in Mali have spread rumours about Russia’s controversial Wagner Group’s alleged operations in the country. But the Russian and Malian government have denied the allegations, stating that the Russian Federation is providing perfectly legal military assistance to the Malian government. While the Wagner Group does appear to be active in Mali, the unfounded allegations concerning its activities are part of the ongoing information war being waged against Russia. And Mali is now at the center of a new geo-strategic war between the Western military alliance and Russia in Africa.
Assimi Goïtar is perceived by the French and Americans as ‘pro-Russian’. His recent call with President Putin where the Russian president offered humanitarian assistance, will have confirmed French suspicions that Moscow now has a firm foothold in the country.
Russian influence in Mali goes back to the first decades of the country’s independence. Left-leaning Modibo Keïta, the country’s first leader, was ousted in 1968 by a French-backed putting the unpopular general Moussa Traoré in his place. Keïta had been suspected of being too close to the USSR.
Traoré subordinated the country to French interests. The return of Russia as a world power under Putin has persuaded many Africans that their interests would be better served through military and economic partnerships with Moscow.
The Malian junta has much popular support. That was shown last January when thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Bamako in support of the military and against French interference in the country. Since the French withdrawal, the Malian military have accused France of repeatedly violation of their airspace. They have warned France that further violations will lead to French planes being shot down. The French ambassador in Mali was expelled on January 31 after his criticism of the junta.
Mali’s complex ethnic composition is another worry for the country’s unity and stability. The Fulani and Dogon ethnic groups have been fighting for centuries over access to arable land and resources. The Western military alliance are experts in fomenting ethnic strife. The Fulani are highly represented in many of the Jihadist groups, while the Dan Na Ambassagou, a Dogon militia believed to be pro-junta is being consistently demonised by the Western press. For example, the group have been blamed for a 2019 massacre in Oggosagou in February in which 160 Fulani herders were killed. Human Rights Watch, with their usual copious lack of evidence, continues to blame the Dan Na Ambassagou for the attack. But the group have denied the allegations. The Da Na Ambassagou are a Dogon militia formed in 2016 to protect Dogon people from Jihadist and Fulani attackers many suspect were supported by France.
French Pan-African activists such as Kémi Séba believe Assimi Goïtar is becoming the name of a new African anti-imperialist revolt. Since their role in the destruction of Libya, the French have lost all credibility in Africa. As we speak, French militarists are pushing for a full-scale war between NATO and Russia, openly advocating the deployment of French troops in Ukraine. But the Russians are gaining friends throughout the developing world. Russia and Mali have a common interest in fighting terrorism. If, following Séba’s analysis, one were to characterize the Malian coup as the beginning of a popular revolution, the possibility of it spreading to other African nations could push the French into further military intervention in Mali.
On his visit to Moscow last week, Mali’s foreign minister Sadio Camara said that ‘certain partners’ use international law and sanctions to weaken the Malian state, preventing it from fighting terrorists. Everyone knows who those ‘partners’ are.
In the new Cold War, the West has lost much of its soft power. The world is turning away from liberalism and toward multi polarity and traditional values. The Malian government’s accusations against France may be the beginning of the end of Western hegemony in the African continent.