Colonial Reflexes (II)

The decision to possibly end the Bundeswehr’s mission in Mali is imminent. Mali’s Prime Minister warned that his country can no longer be “enslaved.”

BAMAKO/PARIS/BERLIN (Own report) – The debate concerning terminating the Bundeswehr’s mission in Mali is gaining momentum. France wants to make its decision concerning how, or whether, it intends to continue to pursue its military intervention in this West African country by the end of the month. This was caused by the fact that the military government in Bamako refuses to continue to put up with the paternalism and high-handed attitude of its former colonial power and other European countries, and is openly defying them. Most recently, in reaction to serious accusations raised by France’s foreign minister, the French ambassador was expelled from the country and France’s Sahel policy sharply criticized. Mali cannot “be transformed into a slave,” declared Prime Minister Choquel Maïga, at the beginning of the week. “Those times are over.” German Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht’s trip to Mali this week was canceled on short notice. Berlin is contemplating whether to discontinue the EU’s training mission, but continue participation in the UN’s MINUSMA mission. As a correspondent in Bamako reported, “many people” are “delighted” at the prospect of the EU troops withdrawal.

Sanctions – and to Whom They Apply

The most recent escalation in the conflict between Mali and France, or the EU countries, began when the West African alliance of states ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) – in French, CEDEAO (Communauté économique des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest) – imposed tough sanctions on Mali, on January 9. This probably was decided, if not under strong pressure from, at least, with the open support of Paris. The sanctions are not only cutting Mali off from trade; they even include closing all land and air borders. The government in Bamako strongly protested, and from its side, closed its own borders in response. The first scandal arose on January 12, as a French military plane coming from Abidjan, the largest city in Côte d’Ivoire, flew, in obvious violation of the closed borders, to Goa, in northern Mali. To the unauthorized action of the former colonial power, who made reference to alleged special rights for foreign states’ military operations, Bamako initially reacted with renewed protest and explicitly banned all foreign military flights. An Airbus A400M of the Bundeswehr was also affected. ( reported.[1]) It took around a week for the dispute to be – at least superficially – settled.

The Takuba Task Force

Back on January 24, the next dispute arose when Danish troops came to Mali, to be integrated into the Takuba Task Force. Since March 2020, France has been reinforcing the task force, in an effort to reduce the initially a 5,000-strong Sahel intervention force, its Opération Barkhane. Denmark contributed an important contingent for Takuba – as have Sweden, Estonia and the Czech Republic. In mid-January, Sweden announced its withdrawal from the task force, reasoning that Mali’s government had begun cooperation with Moscow, including with private Russian military contractors.[2] Bamako, angered over the criticism of its cooperation with Russia – which, as a sovereign country, Mali has every right – felt provoked by the arrival of the Danish Takuba unit, on January 24, that Paris had not adequately announced to the appropriate Malian authorities, and therefore demanded that the Danish soldiers leave the country immediately. Copenhagen then announced it was withdrawing its forces from Takuba. The continued existence of the task force has now been put into question. This carries also major ramifications, because the task force is already seen by some as the nucleus of a European special intervention force.[3]

“Those Times are Over”

In the meantime, the conflict has escalated further. Shortly after the Malian military government demanded that the Danish unit leave the country, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian called the move “irresponsible,” raised other serious accusations against Mali’s government, and threatened “consequences,” to which Mali’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop replied by pointing out that “problems between states” cannot be solved “with insults.” France should treat Mali with the customary “respect” among nations.[4] Because the tone in Paris had not changed, on January 31, Bamako expelled France’s ambassador – unprecedented throughout the history of relations between the two countries. For Paris, this completely unexpected move was a major blow. Disputes persist. Mali’s Prime Minister, Choquel Maïga has followed suit. He accused France on Monday, to have “de facto divided” the country with its military intervention.[5] “You cannot make us a vassal,” Maïga declared, “You cannot transform this country into a slave. Those times are over.”

No Longer Welcome

In Paris, it is now being forecast that the future of the mission will be decided in the middle of the month. In Berlin, similar predictions are to be heard. On the one hand, the situation in the country has consistently deteriorated since the beginning of the intervention in 2013. An organized withdrawal would provide the possibility for avoiding a hasty retreat à la Afghanistan. On the other hand, given the circumstances, it is clear that Russia will gain influence in the Sahel, if European troops withdraw from Mali. Germany’s Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht had originally planned to visit Bamako this week, where, as it was reported, she intended to “have frank talks.”[6] Her trip was canceled on short notice, because, according to the report, one of her closest advisors, an officer, indispensable for her trip, tested positive with the Covid -19 virus. Already on Sunday, Lambrecht had declared, “At the moment, I am very skeptical about whether it will be possible for us to be engaged on the ground. I do not have the impression that we are still welcome.”[7] There are, however, various imaginable scenarios for withdrawal. For example, as Minister of State at Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Katja Keul, indicated Tuesday, following her brief visit to Mali, the EU could terminate it training mission, while, at the same time, Germany units can stay, which are serving within the framework of the UN Blue Helmet MINUSMA troops in northern Mali.[8]

French Flags Burned

While the debate continues in Europe, a correspondent in Mali from the Swiss SRF broadcaster, reported that “many people” are “delighted” over the prospect of the European troops pulling out. “For example, at a demonstration in Bamako last Friday, French flags were burned – and wooden effigies symbolizing Emmanuel Macron.”[9] At the demonstrations, Russian flags were also waved,” reported the correspondent in reference to the new Russian military presence: “the Russians seem to be quite welcome.” In the meantime, “more success” is expected from them, “than from the Europeans.” It is heard, although “difficult to verify” that ever since Russian soldiers have been “fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Malian troops” the “security” has “become much better than it had been in the past eight years with French troops.” In reference to Berlin, Paris and Brussels’ recent demands that Bamako’s governing military must hold elections as quickly as possible, the SRF correspondent noted that “the government is receiving a large amount of support from the population. The people in Mali do not see a precipitated holding of elections as a priority.”


[1] See also Colonial Reflexes

[2] Sweden to withdraw from French-led special forces mission Takuba in Mali. 14.01.2022. See also Cold War in Mali

[3] Gregoire Lory: EU’s Takuba military taskforce in Sahel caught between France and Mali. 03.02.2022.

[4] Abdoulaye Diop, chef de la diplomatie malienne : «Nous demandons que Paris nous respecte en tant que pays». 28.01.2022.

[5] Mali : Selon Choguel Maïga, la France a favorisé la partition du pays. 08.02.2022.

[6] Matthias Gebauer: Lambrecht muss Reise nach Mali absagen. 08.02.2022.

[7] Wachsende Zweifel an Mali-Einsatz. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 07.02.2022.

[8] Daniela Vates: Staatsministerin Keul: “Regierung von Mali muss einen Zeitplan für Wahlen vorlegen“. 08.02.2022.

[9] „Die Russen sind in Mali durchaus willkommen“. 09.02.2022.