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6 Jun, 2022 10:57

France and the EU blew it in Africa and are trying to blame Russia

Former colonies are looking elsewhere for military support after years of bungled operations
France and the EU blew it in Africa and are trying to blame Russia

French influence in Africa has long been taken for granted to such an extent that the French media has a name for the relationship: “Françafrique”. The implication is that Paris still has historical and linguistic ties to its resource-rich former colonies on the continent, which should automatically translate to military, economic, and political privileges. But a new world is emerging in which France’s African sphere of influence is no longer a given. 

During Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop’s visit to Moscow earlier this month, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said that France’s “dissatisfaction with the intent of Malian leadership to seek help from external security forces is nothing other than a recurrence of the colonial mentality.” 

French troops have been in Mali since the launch of Operation Serval under former President François Hollande in 2013 in support of the Malian government against jihadists, and their presence was later expanded to the Sahel region, a vast belt that stretches across the African continent south of the Sahara desert. Toward the end of that year, the former president of Chad, Idriss Deby, pleaded for an expansion of the French-led Malian mission in which his country’s soldiers served, for fear of the area turning into a “terrorist sanctuary.”  Shortly thereafter, a series of Islamic terrorist attacks on French soil subsequently made the seemingly endless operations in the region an easy sell to the French public as counterterrorism and intelligence missions. 

Nine years later, President Emmanuel Macron has been leveraging the African combat theater as a showcase for his dream of creating a new “European defense” entity with the participation of other European partners. The EU’s Takuba Task Force, launched in 2020, appeared meant to be just that. 

The French and EU missions were so wildly ‘successful’ in curtailing Islamic extremism that jihadists were making unprecedented inroads in Mali, convincing locals to abandon allegiance to the state in favor of their rule under Islamic law. A sort of jihadist ‘Big Bang’ sparked by Western military pressure also drove some of the jihadist groups out of Western-controlled areas and into others, former French Ambassador Nicolas Normand told France Culture. 

The Westerners were so ‘adept’ at stabilizing the country that yet another coup in Mali brought an army-led government to power in 2021. There were still thousands of French military personnel in the country – despite Macron’s earlier promise of a drawdown – when this new government told France to leave “without delay.” Clearly not one to give up on his dreams, Macron responded in February 2022 by announcing a redeployment of French and EU troops elsewhere in the region. The French president also took a jab at Russia before Mali’s door could slam shut, saying that anti-terrorism efforts cannot “justify an escalation of violence through the use of mercenaries whose abuses are documented in the Central African Republic and whose exercise of force is not framed by any rule or convention.”

France and 15 of its EU partners published a communiqué last year criticizing the reported presence of the Russian private security contractor Wagner Group in Mali at the invitation of the government. Interim Malian Prime Minister Choguel Maïga has made reference to Russian “soldiers and trainers,” though he said he knows nothing about Wagner, while in a recent interview with Italy’s Mediaset, Lavrov said that Russia “signed an agreement with the government of Mali for the provision of security services.” The Russian foreign minister also pointed out that former French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and {EU diplomacy chief} Josep Borrell told him that “Russia had nothing to do in Africa, neither by the state means nor by private means, because Africa is an area {of interest} of the EU and France.” 

In light of Mali losing control of its own territory to jihadists and seeing governments that end up being deposed through repeated coups, while European nations stand by and claim to be making progress, perhaps the folks now running the show in Mali are simply interested in testing out some different military and security service providers? 

France never clutched its pearls and expressed outrage when the former Navy SEAL son of a high-dollar Republican Party donor gathered former top-level military and intelligence officials to form the military company Blackwater, whose spinoff entities and its former founder went on to serve the US and other foreign governments worldwide in a commercial military capacity. Nor did the EU seem to care much when former British army lieutenant James Le Mesurier, after working for the London-based private contractor Olive Group (which was later merged with the company that ultimately absorbed Blackwater), founded the White Helmets, who inserted themselves into the Syrian conflict with their highly questionable on-the-ground ‘reporting’ that seemed intended to skew public opinion in favor of the US-led anti-Assad Western agenda. 

The EU has also just spent the past couple of months, since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, aiding Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the tune of billions of dollars in military support, as Ukrainian officials overtly call for foreign mercenaries to come fight in the country, where they’re reportedly offered $2,000 per day. Not only is the EU tacitly supporting Western private mercenary activity in Ukraine, but it’s also reportedly helping to create a boom in the sector.

Mercenaries tend to enter the scene when governments and states have failed – which is manifestly the case for France and the EU in Africa. So perhaps they could spare us the selective moral outrage.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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