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France Bids Adieu to Military Mission in West Africa

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07.07.2021

After nearly a decade battling terrorists in West Africa, France is now winding down its largest overseas military mission—and potentially unwinding decades of deep involvement in former colonies like Mali, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to wrap up “Operation Barkhane” reflects both disappointing results from the eight-year effort to stamp out jihadis from their newest staging ground and Macron’s own desire to reset relations with Africa. Since the early days of his presidency, Macron has vowed to put an end once and for all to “Françafrique,” Paris’s longstanding habit of meddling in the political, economic, and military affairs of its former colonies on the continent.

After nearly a decade battling terrorists in West Africa, France is now winding down its largest overseas military mission—and potentially unwinding decades of deep involvement in former colonies like Mali, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to wrap up “Operation Barkhane” reflects both disappointing results from the eight-year effort to stamp out jihadis from their newest staging ground and Macron’s own desire to reset relations with Africa. Since the early days of his presidency, Macron has vowed to put an end once and for all to “Françafrique,” Paris’s longstanding habit of meddling in the political, economic, and military affairs of its former colonies on the continent.

The first head of state to be born after the colonial era, Macron has supported phasing out the CFA franc, a West African currency that critics see as a vestige of colonialism, and returning art looted during the French occupation. On a more symbolic level, he has sought to heal the past’s wounds by acknowledging France’s crimes during the Algerian War and the country’s responsibilities in the Rwandan genocide.

Ending Barkhane, which Macron inherited from his predecessor, François Hollande, seems to be another step toward breaking the cycle of French interference and African dependency on the former colonial power.

“The end of Barkhane is the end of a France-Sahel tête-à-tête,” said Antoine Glaser, a specialist on Franco-African ties and co-author of a recent book on Macron’s stance on Africa.

In 2013, France sent troops to northern Mali to repel an offensive by radical Islamists that could eventually threaten the capital, Bamako. The intervention hit the armed groups hard, dislodging them from the cities, but did not annihilate them. Paris then kept its forces on the ground to contain militant attacks, shore up local militaries, and prevent the region from becoming a new hotbed for international terrorism. Today, some 5,100 French personnel with dozens of aircraft and hundreds of armored vehicles are deployed in a vast area that stretches across Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad.

The Sahel and Western Africa long since stopped being France’s exclusive backyard.

Now, they’ll be coming home. Macron is expected to announce the details and timetable of the pullout in the coming days—a summit with the Sahel leaders is planned for later this week. During a press conference in June,........

© Foreign Policy


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