Nine years after blocking the Jihadist from moving into Bamako, France has failed in Mali. How can we get out of this trap?
Niccolò Machiavelli pointed out that “you make war when you like, you end it when you can.” Nine years after blocking the Jihadists from moving into Bamako, France has no other option than to get out of the trap it finds itself in in Mali as soon as possible, caught in crossfire from the junta, the population and Jihadist groups who are now united in a hatred of our country.
In the Sahel, France still has the upper hand in conflicts but has lost out strategically and politically. The remarkable tactical successes gained over the Jihadist movements have not made it possible to prevent them from operating down to the Gulf of Guinea, from Ivory Coast to Benin, nor to prevent people exasperated by the number of victims and refugees from turning against our country. The situation in Mali has changed abruptly, making it impossible to continue our military engagement. A series of coups d’état have led to power being seized by a junta led by Colonel Goïta, who has refused to organize elections in February and has put them off for at least five years. The request to revise the defense agreements signed with France on 16th July 2014 and the restriction on air traffic essential for the logistics of the Takuba operation have come at the same time as an appeal to the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner legion who ensure Bamako’s security. Tension between Paris and Bamako reached breaking point when the junta decided to expel the French ambassador on 31st January.
At the same time, the environment has become more unstable, and unfavorable to France. Jihadist pressure has caused an avalanche of coups d’état: generals and colonels in the Sahel, Mahamat Déby in Chad, Mamady Doumbouya in Guinea and Paul-Henri Damiba in Burkina Faso. As well as solidarity between coup leaders, there has been the support of Algeria in dismantling the sanctions adopted by the Economic Community of the West African States. The USA continues its withdrawal, leaving the field free for China (from an economic standpoint), Russia (from a military standpoint), and Turkey (from a religious standpoint). It goes without saying that the Jihadists are the first to benefit from the destabilization of the Sahel nations.
France, therefore, has no choice but to withdraw from Mali. This is all the more urgent given the increase in threats to the European continent from powers that aim to build up spheres of influence by force. So it is that Russia is engaged upon a totally hybrid war against Europe combining bringing Belarus under its influence, threatening to invade Ukraine, using blackmail over gas supplies (the EU gets 40% of its gas from Russia), manipulating migrants, increasing its cyber-attacks, and supporting populist forces. Similarly, Turkey is pushing its claims in the Eastern Mediterranean, is pursuing the re-Islamization of the Balkans, and is mobilizing its emigrant communities against their host countries.
France must also take on board all the lessons to be learned from its defeat in Mali, which confirms some of the weaknesses seen in its management of the Covid crisis:
- A lack of anticipation and responsiveness to fast changes in the situation.
- The government’s difficulty in defining and applying a global strategy.
- Insufficient resilience and an inability to handle crises over a long period.
- Digital backwardness and the lack of response to fake news campaigns carried out by démocratures (= a combination of democracy and dictatorship) which divide society and deepen people’s defiance of their leaders.
After withdrawal from Mali, the next French president will have to re-evaluate the threats hanging over our country and the rest of Europe, will have to re-define the strategy for combatting such threats, strengthen national resilience, and free the resources that are necessary in order to ensure – in all circumstances – the security of France and the freedom of the French people.
(Article pubished in Le Point, 3rd February 2022)