Burkina Faso: France is at the helm of Africa’s decolonization

Burkina Faso: France is at the helm of Africa’s decolonization

After the scandal with the expulsion of the French ambassador from Burkina Faso, Paris was seriously concerned about its situation on the continent. On January 3, the French Foreign Ministry said that in December they received a letter requesting the recall of their ambassador from the African country. The expulsion of Ambassador Luc Hallade came a few days after the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Burkina Faso, Barbara Manzi, was also expelled in December and declared persona non grata. Also in December, the junta ordered the suspension of Radio France Internationale (RFI), accusing the radio station of broadcasting messages of intimidation from a “terrorist leader.”

A French deputy foreign minister visiting Burkina Faso rejects accusations of French interference in the former colony’s internal affairs. After talks with the country’s military head, Ibrahim Traoré, junior minister Chrysoula Zacharopoulou said that France “is imposing nothing” on Burkina Faso, and allegedly helps the country Faso “on all levels, humanitarian, security and development.” At the same time, she stressed that France will continue the Sabre operation aimed at finding jihadist leaders in the Sahel region.

Bad signals for Paris

Meanwhile, whatever Ms. Zacharopoulou says about cooperation and rapprochement, the facts say otherwise. In particular, the diplomatic move – the request to recall the ambassador – is an unambiguous sign of the deterioration of relations between France and Burkina Faso.

Zacharopoulou’s attempt to negotiate with the authorities was an attempt to respond to the growing anti-French sentiment and the rapprochement of Burkina Faso with other countries (China, Türkiye, Russia). The country was a French colony for many years, and now it is paying off: the country is gradually becoming more and more anti-French, and regime changes are not taking place according to the usual scenario for France: that is, outside the control of Paris with its long-standing passion for organizing coups d’état. Operation Barkhan in the Sahel, unsuccessful since 2013, has only fueled the strengthening of jihadist forces – it is only natural that the Burkinabé authorities have sought alternative economic and security partners.

Anti-French sentiment in Burkina Faso (and in the Sahel zone in general) has become more acute with each passing year. In December, the military junta expelled two French citizens accused of espionage, there were repeated demonstrations against the presence of Paris, and the French embassy in Ouagadougou was attacked (twice), as well as mobs attacking a cultural center and a French military base. In addition to Burkina Faso, at the forefront of protests in Africa are Mali, where there have also been military coups (2020, 2021) and banned French NGOs, and Guinea, where there have also been strong anti-French protests. In the popular perception, the French are increasingly seen not as defenders, but as plunderers of natural resources under the guise of military operations as a legitimization of their presence on the continent. In these countries, against a background of loss of confidence in France, they are increasingly turning to the military assistance of other states and PMCs (among them the famous Wagner Group, which is so disliked in the West).

Another striking example of loss of confidence in Paris: The CAR, where the civil war could not be stopped by the French or Americans, or the UN, has decided to turn to the Russian PMCs for help. The year 2021 showed the effectiveness of this decision in the fight against gangs against the background of the elections.

The reasons for the failure of Macron

Even before the beginning of his presidential term, Macron made the “decolonization of Africa”, a departure from the policy of France, the general revision of the policy on the Mediterranean, as well as a new approach to the African youth as one of his promises in the international arena. Nevertheless, as analysts admit, Paris’s “crusade” in Africa failed for a number of reasons: moreover, the French had to “roll back” to the original colonial points, as Middle East Eye states.

“The return to the starting point is all the more painful for Macron as it occurs in a situation in which France is forced to admit that it no longer has the means of its ambitions, and that it is losing ground even in its traditional sphere of influence.”

First, the loss of trust has played a cruel trick: Africans no longer trust France’s good intentions, and they see every step as another attempt to hold on to rich resources. The countries of the region survived a century of colonization, followed by half a century of Parisian domination. Yet a number of countries, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, the Central African Republic, and Chad, still lead the list of the world’s poorest countries. Second, Macron will not calculate the huge spending on Africa: because if one approaches the partnership honestly, huge investments are needed. That is, not only to take, but also to give a lot. Third, under Macron, France has failed to win the support of young people and intellectuals who influence public opinion. Fourth, over the years, French military operations in Africa have again failed to deal with jihadists, raising questions about their feasibility. Africa remembers that the surge of radicalism came on the continent following NATO’s brutal intervention in Libya in 2011, in which France (under Nicolas Sarkozy) was directly involved. Fifth, Macron’s rude behavior toward several countries (e.g., tightening visa regimes and attempted deportations to the Maghreb, which only exacerbated already high tensions) and lack of respect. If some could be bribed with title and money, pan-Africanists, pan-Arabists, proponents of economic sovereignty, and – most importantly – impoverished peoples, could not.

Thus, the attempt at “decolonization” has failed since the independence of the African countries, as France has signed more than 40 military cooperation agreements, including the fight against terrorism. The modern “decolonization” also failed on an ideological level: Macron was not even helped by the events of intellectuals held by Achille Mbembe, where an attempt was made for a Franco-African dialogue and a rethinking of the colonial past. The idea itself was met with hostility, and some of the continent’s opinion leaders simply did not participate in the forum.

Meanwhile, France does not want to give up: it still has bases in Africa, including the largest one in Djibouti, as well as bases in Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Gabon. France is now paying particular attention to Niger in this regard. France cannot afford to lose Africa and is looking for a new military structure that will allow a more effective presence with fewer personnel.

New benchmarks for Burkina Faso

As we have noted, France’s main competitors on the African continent are China, Russia and Türkiye. As pan-Africanists and supporters of independence and multi-polar orientations of Africa (such as Kemi Seba, leader of the Urgences Panafricanistes) stress, African countries should not be “pro-French,” nor “pro-China” or “pro-Russian,” they must first of all work for their own interests. And for this there must be their own choice of profitable and reliable partners.

In terms of partnership with Russia, it is economic cooperation (Nordgold, a gold mining company), because the country is rich in precious resources. It is also friendly with Mali, which also has sympathy for Moscow. In this regard, there is talk about the possibility of forming an anti-French bloc in West Africa, which would also include Guinea and the Central African Republic. Given Russia’s active involvement in the special operation in Ukraine, the possibility of participation on the continent is temporarily limited. Still, by providing political and military advice in addition to military support through the Wagner Group, the Russians have managed to gain influence and credibility on the continent in a short time.

China is a reliable and interesting partner, especially when it comes to investment. It is also more palatable ideologically: it has not imposed normative requirements on “democracy,” “human rights,” etc. – The country followed only a strategy of benefit and convenient mutual cooperation. 

Although there are many skeptics among Africans who fear the consequences of Beijing’s loans.

Türkiye is now one of Africa’s most important partners, and cooperation is only increasing. Specifically in the case of Burkina Faso, for example, it is the purchase and use of Bayraktar drones.

The U.S. and Joe Biden are also stepping on the heels of the weakening of the French position and declared their support for the African demands for permanent representation in the G-20 and the UN Security Council. He also organized a second summit of U.S. and African leaders December 13-15, 2022, in Washington, D.C., eight years after the first, where the continent was promised $55 billion in “aid.” However, knowing this trap, too, from the example of many countries, Africans are wary of the offer.

Thus, Burkina Faso (as well as Mali, Guinea and the Central African Republic) now has a significant advantage as anti-systemic countries to choose a multipolar development path and not fall into new colonial traps.

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April 2024