France-Russia: Ouattara, Goïta, Sassou Nguesso…The targets and allies of Paris and Moscow

By Vincent Duhem
Posted on Tuesday, 6 September 2022 10:45

Photo by JA/TAR

On the continent, each state seems to be ranked according to its position on the conflict in Ukraine as well as its proximity to the former colonial power on the one hand and the Kremlin on the other.

In this sort of relationship cartography being played out between France, Russia and the various African states, it is no surprise to see Mali’s Assimi Goïta and Central Africa’s Faustin-Archange Touadéra benefitting from Moscow’s good graces. Both countries host mercenaries from the Russian company Wagner on their soil and regularly attack French interests. Conversely, they find themselves especially targeted by France, which has lost the influence it long had in Bamako and Bangui.

The situation is more ambiguous for another putschist: Burkina Faso’s Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. Courted by Wagner, he has not yet taken the plunge. His country remains a French partner on the military level. This position has earned him criticism from some pro-Kremlin cyberactivists and increased surveillance from Paris.

A balancing act called Macky Sall

Dinosaurs of African politics with 316 years of power between them, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, Republic of the Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue and Gabon’s president Ali Bongo Ondimba have all curiously been spared by these same cyberactivists. Is their neutrality in the Ukraine conflict the main reason? All four also happen to maintain good relations with Russia.

As for Senegal’s Macky Sall, an important intermediary for France on the continent since his accession to power, he is engaged in a perilous balancing act. On 2 March, Senegal abstained when the UN voted for a non-coercive resolution demanding “the immediate and unconditional withdrawal” of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. AU chairperson Sall then met with the Russian president and is expected to travel to Ukraine for talks with Volodymyr Zelensky. In Paris, it is feared that Russia is trying to take advantage of the breach opened by the Senegalese opponent politician Ousmane Sonko. However, there is as yet no evidence to support this theory.

Known for their privileged links with the former colonial power, Chad’s Mahamat Idriss Déby, Niger’s Mohamed Bazoum and Côte d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara are also marked for Moscow’s support. The first succeeded his father after the latter’s death, with Paris’ unconcealed support. The second leads a country, Niger, which has become the new heart of the French military apparatus.

Moscow at the helm in Côte d’Ivoire?

If  Côte d’Ivoire and Russia officially have good diplomatic relations, Alassane Ouattara is perceived as one of the main relays of France on the continent. And in Abidjan, in the corridors of the presidency, some have already commented that “Moscow is already at work”. They also couldn’t miss the presence of articles regularly provided by the Russian embassy in a newspaper favourable to Laurent Gbagbo. Isn’t one of the former president’s close collaborators Ahoua Don Mello, a consultant on African issues for Russian employers since the fall of Guinea’s Alpha Condé, whom he advised?

A few months ago, the services of the French embassy in Côte d’Ivoire were shocked to discover a pamphlet in the daily newspaper close to the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), the Nouveau Réveil, comparing France’s military action in the Sahel with the war in Chechnya. Finally, since the outset of the conflict in Ukraine, Facebook profiles hosted in Côte d’Ivoire and supporting the Russian offensive have flourished. Some people close to Guillaume Soro, the former president of the National Assembly exiled in Europe since late 2019, have also aligned themselves with Moscow’s positions.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options