The ‘disappearance’ of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger: A French paradox

By Damien Glez

Posted on September 7, 2023 08:18

macron_discours_ambassadeurs_2023_1256 copie

In his annual address to the French ambassadors’ conference, the French President reiterated his conviction that three African states would have disappeared if Paris had not intervened militarily in the Sahel.

In an interview with the weekly Le Point, published on 23 August, French President Emmanuel Macron, when asked about the supposed anti-French sentiment in the Sahel region, tried his hand at euchronia, the technique of narrating fictional events from a real historical starting point.

The starting point, in this case, is the request for military aid from France made by Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traoré just over a decade ago.

By assuming that France has ignored this call, President Macron pointed his story towards a rather radical outcome: “If we had not been involved, with operations Serval and then Barkhane, there would probably no longer be any Mali, no longer any Burkina Faso. I’m not even sure there would still be Niger.”

Speculative fiction

Without denying the real threat, 10 years ago, of Bamako being taken over by jihadists, and without minimising the sacrifice of the 58 French soldiers who died in the Sahel, many African observers describe this Gallic assertion – a mythical binary of “me or chaos” – as arrogant. In a more skin-deep analysis, specialists in geopolitical issues see it as speculative fiction.

While Macron refers to the possibility of “the creation of caliphates a few thousand kilometres away” from his country, he is well aware that neither the Taliban takeover nor the establishment of the Islamic State proto-state has removed Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq from the map.

Did the interviewee’s words go beyond his thoughts, as is sometimes forgivable in a long interview without a formal structure? It would appear not. The following Monday, at the opening of the conference of French ambassadors, Macron drove the point home.

After a 40-minute speech, he mocked a “baroque alliance between so-called pan-Africanists and neo-imperialists” and repeated his analysis: “If our soldiers had not fallen on the field of honour in Africa, if Serval and then Barkhane had not been deployed, we would not be talking about Mali, Burkina Faso or Niger today.”

No sooner had he formulated what might seem like a nuance – “these states would no longer exist within their territorial limits” – than he repeated how convinced he was of being right: “I can tell you with certainty.”

While the diplomats in today’s Areopagus are learning to paint a picture of glasses half-empty and half-full, Macron is drawing up a presumptuous balance sheet in which the glass is full to the brim.

As excess begets excess, the spokesman for the government of Burkina Faso, Jean-Emmanuel Ouédraogo, believes he is too entitled to describe an empty glass, or rather one filled with hemlock: “France is part of the security problem in Burkina Faso.” Don’t the people of the Sahel deserve better than fiction and a diagnosis for the archives?

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.