Mali: Choguel Maïga says France has opted to partition the country

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Thursday, 10 February 2022 09:45

Mali’s prime minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga in his official residence in Bamako, 16 October 2021. © Nicolas Réméné for JA

On 7 February, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Maïga said “after a time of elation”, French military involvement had allowed the jihadists to take over part of the country. Amid increasing tensions between Paris and Bamako, malicious statements from Maïga are nothing new.

This is certainly not the first time that he has attacked France. However, on that day, his statements were particularly hostile. As head of the government installed by the junta, which came to power through two successive putsches in August 2020 and May 2021, Maïga accused Paris of using its military to try to partition his country.

For more than 45 minutes, in front of diplomats who he had asked to gather in his office, Maïga criticised France, but stopped short of explicitly asking for the withdrawal of the anti-jihadist force Barkhane.

He said after “a time of elation” in 2013, when French soldiers liberated the northern part of Mali, which had fallen under the control of jihadist groups, “the intervention turned into a de facto partition of Mali, which [enshrined] the sanctuary on Malian territory, on which the terrorists had time to take refuge and reorganise themselves in order to come back in force from 2014 onwards.”

Anti-French sentiment

Amid increasing tensions between Paris and Bamako, he used the example of World War II to justify his rhetoric. “Didn’t the Americans liberate France? […] When the French decided that [the US presence in France] was no longer necessary, they told the Americans to leave. Did the Americans then start insulting the French?” he said.

We cannot be subjugated, we cannot turn the country into a slave. That is over.

Ever since the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – backed by France and other partners – imposed sanctions on Mali on 9 January, the junta has been staking its claim on Mali’s sovereignty, using anti-French sentiment, which has been growing worse in recent months, to its advantage.

The Malian authorities accuse Paris of instrumentalising ECOWAS. Maïga said the aim is “to present [Mali] as a pariah, with the unavowed and unmentionable short-term objective of suffocating the economy in order to, on behalf of whom we know and by proxy, destabilise and overthrow the transitional institutions”.

According to him, the French leaders “never told their people, when they intervened in 2013, that they were going to divide Mali”. He said: “We cannot be subjugated, we cannot turn the country into a slave. That is over.”

Takuba targeted

The prime minister also criticised Takuba – the European special forces group that France created to support Malian soldiers in their fight against the jihadists. He said Takuba, “is being used to divide Mali. It means ‘sword’ in Songhai and Tamasheq, the name was not chosen by accident”.

France and its partners – European and the US – have reproached the junta for delaying civilians’ return to power and for hiring mercenaries affiliated with the Russian group Wagner, which Bamako disputes. In front of diplomats gathered on Monday, including Russian ambassador Igor Gromyko, Maïga likened the soldiers of the Foreign Legion, one of the French army’s corps, to mercenaries.

He mentioned the fact that Mali’s ambassador to Paris, Toumani Djimé Diallo, had been recalled in February 2020. The latter had angered the French authorities by accusing their soldiers of “excesses” in Bamako’s hot districts. The Malian authorities had – at the time –  recalled the diplomat at France’s request, “on the basis of simple declarations […] due to certain French legionnaires’ unorthodox behaviour in Mali”, said Maïga. “I was going to say mercenaries.”

With AFP

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