France has suffered another geopolitical setback in Africa. On December 2, Burkina Faso and Niger announced their withdrawal from all G5 Sahel bodies, an institutional framework initiated by the leaders of Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad in 2014 and finally formed in 2017. On December 6, the Presidents of Mauritania and Chad also announced their withdrawal from the organization.
Among the reasons for withdrawing from the alliance cited by the military leaders of the first two countries was the organization’s inability to effectively solve not only economic but also military tasks assigned to it, and their “vision of independence is not compatible with G5 participation in its current form.”
This alliance, consisting of the least developed African countries, but possessing huge reserves of strategic minerals necessary for the development of modern economies, was aimed at creating more favorable conditions for their economic growth by ensuring their security from threats posed by numerous terrorist organizations and criminal syndicates proliferated in this region after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The power vacuum created in vast areas outside the major agglomerations in the Sahel zone has spurred a phenomenal growth of extremist violence in the past decade, triggering an acute humanitarian crisis: 4.9 million people have been displaced and 24 million people require food assistance, according to UN. In one of his speeches, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had to admit that “we are losing the war on terror in the Sahel zone, so we should strengthen the fight against them.”
However, according to the latest data, the situation in large parts of the region remains very difficult, as noted in the May report of the UN Security Council. Terrorist organizations have increasingly threatened the security of coastal West African countries such as Benin, Ghana, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.
And all this happened despite the fact that since 2014, France has been fighting jihadists here as part of the widely publicized counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane. According to the American edition of Truthout, Paris, when starting this military campaign, secretly planned to use the idea of fighting jihadism while maintaining and asserting its presence in Africa, protecting it from the encroachments of rival powers, and, hoping for the so-called “Atlantic solidarity”, counted on broad financial and military support from its European allies and the United States, but miscalculated.
Paris’s allies saw the creation of the G5 Sahel Joint Force as France’s desire to shift to them its financial burden associated with supporting its African partners and maintaining its leading position in Africa under the guise of fighting international terrorism. The head of the Association for the Sovereignty of Peoples of Mali, Abdoulaye Nabaloum, said that this regional alliance was France’s instrument to better control the countries in this region.
This view is upheld by former United States Ambassador to Africa John Campbell, who believes that “the godfather of the organization is French President Emmanuel Macron,” and the main financial sponsors at the time of its creation were Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which allocated $100 and 30 million, respectively, to fight jihadism, which poses a direct threat to their dynastic system of governance.
The fact that France created the G5 Sahel Joint Force is expressly stated in the UN May report on the situation in the Sahel zone.
When the Elysee Palace realized, but did not officially acknowledge, its inability to independently deal with terrorism in the region in early 2020, coupled with its failed plans to create, at the expense of others, an effective military coalition of African and European countries, Macron in June 2021 made a statement bordering on blackmail about its intention to reduce its military presence, citing the fact that “France has neither the obligation nor the desire to keep its troops in the Sahel zone forever.”
This blackmail was directed not only against the G5 Sahel, primarily Mali, on whose territory French troops were located, but also affected US and European interests.
Attempts by Paris to get Washington and Europe to play a more active role in military operations in this African area did not bring results. During talks in January 2020 in Washington with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, French Defense Minister Florence Parly asked the latter not to reduce the US military presence in the Sahel zone in connection with the turn of US policy towards the Indo-Pacific region, but he did not give any concrete assurances, citing that these issues are under consideration.
In this regard, an article in the American edition of Responsible Statecraft is noteworthy, which describes the military failures of the French troops, acknowledges that the Sahel is plunging deeper into chaos, and recommends in no case to take the place of Europeans in resolving this crisis.
Disillusioned with the Parisian inability to make a radical change in the course of counter-terrorism military operations, the military authorities of Mali, on whose territory French troops have been waging a losing war against terrorists since 2013, signed a contract for security assistance with the Russian Wagner PMC, which immediately caused a negative reaction from Paris, which announced its withdrawal of troops from Mali within 6 months. Bamako, in turn, asked Paris to do this immediately and, in addition, in May announced the denunciation of the defense treaty with France.
Moreover, on May 15, 2022, the Malian authorities announced its withdrawal from the G5 Sahel, since this alliance was exploited by its individual members and one “extra-regional country,” referring to France, in their own interests, incompatible with its goals.
In an interview with the French newspaper Le Croix in May 2022, before the July 2023 coup, Niger President Mohamed Bazoum said that Mali’s withdrawal from the G5 Sahel would mark its end.
The immediate reason for Bamako’s decision was the refusal of Niger and Chad, as members of this G5 before the military coups that occurred in these countries in June and August, respectively, to allow Mali to assume the G5 Sahel rotating presidency.
Another no less important reason for this decision was the introduction of economic and other sanctions against the military regime for its refusal to return to civilian rule after the expiration of the transition period, as well as for establishing ties with the Russian Wagner PMC.
The subsequent establishment on September 16, 2023 of the Alliance of Sahel States consisting of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in order to coordinate efforts to strengthen the “architecture” of joint defense and mutual support was a kind of prologue to the collapse of the G5. According to Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, the fight against terrorism in all three countries will be a priority in the new organization’s activities.
The agreement states that any attack on the sovereignty or territorial integrity of one or more parties to the alliance will be regarded as aggression against other parties and will require the help of all parties, including the use of military force. In this regard, Algerian political scientist Ahmed Mizab regarded the creation of the alliance as the end of French hegemony’s era in the region.
According to many experts, the establishment of the Alliance of Sahel States was the logical outcome of the neo-colonial policy of Paris, which is based on unceremonious interference in the affairs of its African partners, the decades-long theft of natural resources, and its inability to put an end to terrorist activity in the region.
Years of accumulated dissatisfaction with the French military presence and the paternalistic nature of Paris’s foreign policy eventually culminated in an explosive wave of anti-French sentiment not only in public circles in African countries, but also among the military, which led to a series of military coups.
The Middle East Eye noted that anti-French sentiment, for example, in Mali became so acute that part of the population, after ten years of unsuccessful struggle by French troops on its territory, began to see France not so much as a liberating force, but as an occupying force.
No less acute is the situation in Niger, which until recently was considered a stronghold of French influence on the continent. It came to the point that during a protest in front of the base hosting French military forces in Niamey, attended by a New York Times reporter, demonstrators carried a coffin they said was meant for the French president and brandished signs reading “Death to France”.
The completely ill-considered, sometimes reckless statements made by officials of the Elysee Palace about the possible use of armed force in the event of a threat to French interests were perceived extremely negatively in African circles. Thus, the British The Guardian, covering the military coup in Niger in July, noted that Emmanuel Macron threatened that “he will not tolerate any attack against France and its interests” and if anyone gets hurt, Paris will retaliate “immediately and uncompromisingly.”
The author of the article qualified this reaction of the French President as “a stern warning from the almighty emperor to the uncontrollable natives who had escaped his control,” for whom even the idea of France as the “gendarme of Africa,” established in many African countries, ceased to have any meaning.
This is why, according to Truthout, the signing of the agreement for the establishment of the Alliance of Sahelian States was a direct result of threats from Macron and his regional allies in the ranks of the Economic Community of West African States to undertake armed intervention in Niger in order to overthrow the new military authorities, which eventually forced them to join the new alliance.
According to the American Huffington Post, the current failures of Macron’s African policy in the Sahel zone, accompanied by an unprecedented increase in anti-French sentiment and half a dozen coups, were largely due to the rampant jihadist organizations in the region after the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, provoked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
But today, according to one of the authors of Foreign Policy, this “Sarkozy’s adventure” comes back as a boomerang and takes its heaviest toll on the imperial ambitions of the Elysee Palace’s representatives, whose troops, unable to stop the growth of terrorist activity, are expelled in disgrace from the countries of this region, sometimes together with French ambassador.
In this context, the assessment of the current situation in the Sahel zone by experts from the American analytical center Stratfor is noteworthy, as it produces a disappointing conclusion for the Elysee Palace that “the West’s reluctance to wage a more active fight against jihadism in this region creates a unique opportunity for Russia” to advance its interests.
Viktor Goncharov, Candidate of Economic Science, expert in African studies, exclusively for the internet journal “New Eastern Outlook”