Breaking the deadlock in Mali, a priority for France

Editorial of the “World”. Almost nine years after the start of the French intervention, what are the French soldiers doing in Mali? The question was, in fact, to be asked on the occasion of the visit to this country scheduled by Emmanuel Macron on December 20 and 21. In Bamako, the president was to meet the putschist colonel Assimi Goïta, in power since August 2020, whose relations with Paris are increasingly strained. In Gao, Mr. Macron was to participate in the traditional Christmas of the troops.

But the trip was canceled. The Elysee Palace invoked the Covid-19: the president would have set a bad example, while his government recommends limiting the number of guests for Christmas. The political risk of a tête-à-tête with an unelected leader also weighed heavily.

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In view of the initial objective of the French commitment, decided by François Hollande in early 2013 at the request of Bamako, which consisted of preventing the seizure of power by the Islamists and preventing the collapse of the State, the results are calamitous. : the Malian army overthrew the elected president; the state is in complete decay; the jihadists have largely extended their hold over the country and taken up a position in neighboring countries (Burkina Faso and Niger); the populations, exasperated by the violence, attack the French soldiers. Of course, Bamako did not fall and terrorist leaders were eliminated. But jihadism now threatens all of West Africa.

Double talk of the Malian government

Emmanuel Macron, who inherited this external intervention, succeeded in involving the states of the region and integrating soldiers from other European countries. In June, he began a partial withdrawal. The bases of Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu have been handed over to the Malian army, while French soldiers remain present in the center of the country.

But the observation is clear: faced with Islamists who thrive on the inability of states to arbitrate social, ethnic and land conflicts and to ensure the minimum level of well-being and security for populations, there is no victory. military possible.

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All things considered, France finds itself in Mali in a situation comparable to that of the United States in Afghanistan: a dead end. A brutal withdrawal risks to tip into obscurantism this country long known for the tolerance of its brotherly Islam and its links with France, and to give way to hostile forces in Paris. The equation is further complicated by the double talk of the Malian government, which promises elections, but seems to be counting on the Russian militiamen of the Wagner Group to remain in power at all costs.

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Ineluctable in the long term, the French withdrawal presupposes that the means of political stabilization of Mali be sought. Discussions with the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, affiliated with Al-Qaida), the most established of the jihadist groups, cannot be ruled out. The junta in power in Bamako seems determined to do so. But such a prospect, illusory without a green light from Paris, and at high risk, supposes that the fields on which the parties are ready to negotiate are defined. It also demands that Mali be endowed with a legitimate government. So many prerequisites which are far from being fulfilled.

However, if the French presidential campaign is not a good time to make strong decisions about Mali, the status quo is not an option for Paris, given the gravity and volatility of the situation. Breaking the Sahelian impasse will have to be a priority for the next French president.

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Breaking the deadlock in Mali, a priority for France