July 25, 2021

After the coup in Mali, Macron reiterates his wish to “withdraw” the soldiers from Barkhane

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Emmanuel Macron had formulated it for the first time on January 19, during his vows to the armies. He repeated it this Sunday, May 30, even more firmly. “We don’t have a vocation to stay forever” in Mali, assured the President of the Republic in an interview with Sunday newspaper, by evoking the future of the operation “Barkhane” where more than 5,000 French soldiers have been deployed since 2014. An announcement directly linked to the new coup d’état that took place in Bamako on May 24, which brought down the interim executive in place for only nine months.

While, until now, it is rather the deterioration of the security situation and the lack of support from the Malian state that made the Elysee Palace doubt its military commitment, Mr. Macron justifies this new speech by the risk, according to him, that this new putsch installs at the head of Mali authorities more open to « l’islam radical ». “If it goes in this direction, I will withdraw”, assures the head of state, adding that he had indicated to the leaders of West Africa that he would not stay “Alongside a country where there is no longer democratic legitimacy”.

In reality, this Malian coup, if it is a source of hassle for diplomacy, could also offer an unforeseen way out for the French army. For several months now, in a context of the erosion of the support of French opinion in Operation “Barkane” and the evolution of global strategic competition, the executive and the military staff have been seeking to initiate a troop withdrawal. A concern coupled with the concern to step over the 2022 presidential election deadline without too much damage. Most specialists consider that Paris will not be able to completely disengage its soldiers in the short term, but the signal is there.

“Coup d’Etat in the coup d’état”

Behind the words of the Head of State, we must also read the concern and exasperation of France with regard to Mali. Colonel Assimi Goïta, whom France saw, after its first coup d’état, on August 18, as “Articulate”, “well-intentioned but uncomfortable in political maneuver” turned out to be a repeat offender. The post of prime minister should go to a personality from M5-RFP, the conglomerate of political parties and civil society organizations that had previously mobilized the street against ex-president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. Will the new civilian head within the Malian executive be tempted to go beyond the previously formulated intentions of a political dialogue with the leaders of the jihadist groups present in Mali? It is also a cause for concern for Paris.

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