PARIS. – The military coup in Burkina Faso deals another heavy blow to France’s fading efforts to stabilise the Sahel region, where Islamist militants have grown in strength and people’s attitudes towards former colonial masters have hardened.
Successive coups in Mali, Chad and now Burkina Faso have weakened Paris’ local alliances, emboldened jihadists who control large swathes of territory and opened the door for Russia to fill the vacuum.
Diplomats warn that spiralling violence could give fresh impetus to migration from West Africa to Europe. It also threatens international mining operations and stability in strategic French partners like Ivory Coast and Senegal.
There have been tactical military successes since France intervened in its former colony Mali in 2013 to prevent militants advancing on the capital Bamako before going on to lead Western efforts to stabilise the region.
It led operations that targeted the top tier leadership of al Qaeda and Islamic State’s regional affiliates.
Some analysts say that were France now to pull out, it could lead to trouble.
“This (coup in Burkina Faso) puts the French in a difficult position because they’ve come down hard in Mali … The whole regional fight requires them to be working closely with whoever is in charge,” said Michael Shurkin, a former CIA officer and director of global programs at 14 North Strategies consultancy.
“If they (the French) were to walk away then this whole thing completely falls apart.”
That leaves tough choices for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to seek re-election in a few weeks’ time and wants to underline his leadership credentials.
“I would remind you that our priority in the region is to fight against Islamist terrorism,” a defiant Macron said in response to the Burkina Faso coup. Whether he succeeds is unclear.
Macron’s policy in the Sahel since 2017 has been to make local forces responsible for their own security over the long term. To do that, thousands of French troops were deployed and 1 billion euros spent each year on Operation Barkhane.
But two coups in Mali in the last 18 months, with the junta now refusing to step aside for a civilian transition, upended that strategy.
Macron sought to adapt. Last June, he started reducing troop numbers from some 5 000 to 4 000 with the objective to halve the contingent later this year.
He pulled out of three key bases in northern Mali to return security control to Malian authorities and the United Nations. – Reuters