Battle Over Mali (I)

Conflict over Germany’s Bundeswehr deployment in Mali continues. Bamako criticizes highhandedness of the West, particularly of France, including acts of espionage and subversion.

BAMAKO/BERLIN (Own report) – The conflict between Mali and Germany continues over the Bundeswehr’s deployment in that West African country. Differences over the German soldiers’ arrival and departure were resolved last week. Once Berlin consented to comply with the new troop transport regulations, the rotation of the Bundeswehr contingent in Mali – which had been scheduled since some time – was accomplished last Thursday. However, the conflict over Mali’s military cooperation with Russia continues. Bamako is also taking action against unauthorized operations on its territory by foreign powers. It reproaches France of having carried out this year alone dozens of unauthorized aerial operations in Mali, some aimed at espionage and subversion. Mali’s government is therefore requesting a special session of the UN Security Council. Bamako is also taking action against a private contractor of the German Bundeswehr, for allegedly having operated a military camp at the airport of Mali’s capital without the appropriate authorization. All this must be seen in the context of Bamako’s fears of a West-inspired coup.

Espionage and Subversion

Unauthorized operations by foreign powers on Mali’s territory are one of the causes of the escalation of tensions between the Malian government and European states. Last week, Mali requested a special session of the UN Security Council to protest the repeated violations of its airspace by French forces. Already since the beginning of this year, Mali’s foreign ministry has listed 50 such cases including those – according to Bamako – aimed at espionage and subversion. One of these cases involves the military base in Gossi about 150 kilometers from Gao, which French forces have handed over to the Malian forces on April 19, in the course of their withdrawal. A day later, a French drone took photos of murdered civilians without Bamako’s permission. At the time, the West linked their deaths to the alleged arrival of Russian soldiers. Mali’s judiciary investigated the case – and concluded that the victims had been murdered long before the withdrawal of French troops. Bamako complains that the French operation was clearly aimed at delegitimizing Mali’s military and its cooperation with Russia.[1]

Subversion Scenarios

Tensions are also due to the Malian government’s fears of a West-inspired coup – not without good reason. This was apparently the motive behind the internationally widely criticized arrest of 49 soldiers from Côte d’Ivoire. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara was brought to power in 2011 through a French military coup following a highly contested election.[2] He is considered one of the fiercest opponents to Mali’s military government and its cooperation with Moscow. Ouattara was the driving force behind the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposing sanctions on Mali at the beginning of this year. In February, a telephone recording made high waves in West Africa, in which Ouattara can be heard discussing with a prominent opponent of the Malian government about sanctions and the fact that these would make it extremely difficult for Mali’s military government to stabilize its power.[3] In May, Bamako announced that it had successfully averted an armed coup attempt.[4] When on July 10, 49 soldiers from Côte d’Ivoire, including heavily armed special forces, arrived at the airport of Mali’s capital without an official deployment mandate, the Malian authorities became suspicious and arrested them.

Without Authorization

The still unresolved case of the 49 Ivorians, now on trial in Mali, also involves Germany. According to the official story, the soldiers from Côte d’Ivoire were flown to Bamako to perform security for a military camp at the airport, which is mainly used by German MINUSMA soldiers. Camp Sénou is officially operated by the private company Sahel Aviation Services (SAS), which in turn – according to reports – had been founded by a German captain of the reserves. On the one hand, SAS receives flight contracts from the Bundeswehr and, on the other, accommodates troops – mainly German, but occasionally from other European forces – at Camp Sénou.[5] According to Malian authorities, they had not been informed of the security for Camp Sénou, apparently privately organized by SAS. In addition, SAS is only authorized to operate a sort of logistics hub, but not to accommodate troops or even to store weapons at the facility. On August 1, Bamako demanded that the Bundeswehr vacate Camp Sénou within 72 hours.[6] The Bundeswehr complied.

No Special Authorization

Four days after the arrest of the 49 Ivorians, Mali’s government suspended all rotations of MINUSMA units and announced new regulations for troop deployments – for reasons of “national security”. This also affected the Bundeswehr, which initially had to completely renounce all rotations for its contingent. In early August, Malian authorities and MINUSMA agreed on new regulation stipulating that troop deployments must now be requested by MINUSMA. This was already known before German Minister of Defense, Christine Lambrecht, claimed on August 12 that Mali’s government had again forbidden German troop rotation, and that, for the time being, German participation in MINUSMA would therefore be suspended.[7] In the leading German media this was described as an alleged “hostage taking” by the Malian government.[8] The allegations caused massive resentment in Bamako. Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop explicitly pointed out to the German ambassador that, since the beginning of August, MINUSMA contingent rotations can no longer be arranged with the Malian government – as Lambrecht had sought to do – but must be coordinated with MINUSMA directly.[9] This, of course, also applies to Germany.

No Weapons

Berlin finally conceded and complied with the official directives. Thus, troop transport was able to resume last Thursday – albeit in civilian aircraft, in which transport of weapons is prohibited. However, the conflict between Mali and Germany or other European states is not over. It mainly revolves around Bamako’s growing cooperation with Moscow. How to respond, is controversial in Germany. will soon report.


[1] Le Mali a saisi le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU, declarant détenir des preuves d’un soutien de la France aux groupes terroristes. 17.08.2022.

[2] See also Spiel mit dem Feuer and Die Herrschaft der Wenigen.

[3] Mali : ce que l‘on sait de l’audio attribué à Alassane Ouattara et Boubou Cissé. 12.02.2022.

[4] Benjamin Roger, Manon Laplace: Mali : ce que l’on sait de la tentative de coup d’État annoncée par Bamako. 18.05.2022.

[5] Thomas Wiegold: Merkposten Mali: Weiter Angriffe auf die Armee, Regierung verlangt Transparenz von Deutschland, wer wird Nachmieter in Gao? 27.07.2022.

[6] Thomas Wiegold: Merkposten Mali: Rettungsflieger müssen am Boden bleiben, Rauswurf am Flughafen in Bamako, Rotation bleibt gestoppt (Neufassung). 02.08.2022.

[7] Claudia Bröll, Peter Carstens: Lambrecht zieht Konsequenzen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 13.08.2022.

[8] Peter Carstens: Lautes Schweigen in Bamako. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 16.08.2022.

[9] L’Allemagne doit passer par la MINUSMA pour l’autorisation de survol au Mali. 13.08.2022. Dominic Johnson: Im Wortgefecht um Truppen. 14.08.2022.