By: Gwendolyn E. Dickens
Increasingly, France’s presence in the Sahel has become a nuisance among the people. The beginning of this year marked the scaling down of France’s military presence in Mali and its neighbour, Burkina Faso.
This comes after the ruling military Junta in Mali demanded French troops to pull out its territory. Burkina also followed suit and terminated the agreement which allows French forces to be in the country and insisted on France to withdraw within a month its contingent of some 400 troops stationed in the country; thus ending over decade-long anti-jihadist mission in the sub-region.
Burkina Faso has since 2015 been grappling with an insurgency led by jihadists linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group that has reportedly killed tens of thousands of civilians, troops and police and displaced around two million people. Recently, about 60 people including women, were abducted a few around the north and southeast of Arbinda. The Arbinda area, where nearly one million of the population inhabit has been under blockade by these jihadists groups. Over 10,000 schools across the Sahel have closed, leaving millions of children without an education. Again, approximately 7,000 health centres are reported to have shut down. Even with the presence French special forces and soldiers who claim to help combat Islamist insurgency in the Sahel, a vast swath of Burkina Faso still lies outside the government’s control.
Against this backdrop, military officers have carried out two major coups in a show of anger at failures to roll back the insurgency, the most recent lad by Captain Ibrahim Traore. On the other hand, France presence on the land has come under intense scrutiny as relations between the two countries have deteriorated in recent months.
Protesters thronged to Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou to demand a closure of the French military base and to oust the French ambassador from the country. Some were seen displaying placards with slogans such as “French army, get out” as well as posters showing Presidents of Mali, Guinea and Russia at Ouagadougou’s central square. They vehemently demonstrated their support for Traore and the security forces fighting the jihadists. One of the leaders who granted interview indicated that, “We are a pan-African movement and we want cooperation between Burkina Faso and Russia, but also the strengthening of friendship and of cooperation with Guinea and Mali”.
It is believed that the present governments of Burkina Faso, Mali and even Central Africa Republic after seizing power seek to rekindle ties with Russia to the end that the Sahel could stamp out insecurity and regain its territorial sovereignty.
After their successful severance from French forces, Burkina Faso and its allies, Mali and Guinea, have proposed a regional partnership to facilitate trade and tackle insecurity in the region. The foreign ministers of Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali opined in a joint statement on Thursday (09/02) during their diplomatic meeting in Ougadougou. The statement further indicated that the new Bamako-Conakry-Ouagadougou federation will be a basis for fuel and electricity exchanges, transport links, cooperation on mineral resource extraction, rural development and trade. The federation will mobilise resources for a railway network to be able to link the three capitals and centralise the combat against insecurity, adding that Burkina Faso’s interim President Traore had asked his government to enact the plan, reports indicate. The three ministers have also called for technical and financial support for their democratic transitions.