The rag is burning between Paris and Ouagadougou and the outcome is very uncertain. According to an official document transmitted to Agence France Presse, Burkina Faso would have requested the departure of French troops from its soil within a month. If the Burkinabe authorities have not yet confirmed anything, French President Emmanuel Macron said he was waiting for “clarifications” from the “country of honest men” on a possible request for the departure of French troops stationed in the country. Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who came to power on September 30, 2022 by a coup – the second in eight months – is currently on the move outside the capital.
In a letter from the Burkinabè Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed to Paris and dated Wednesday, Ouagadougou “denounces and puts an end in its entirety to the agreement” of December 17, 2018 “relating to the status of the French armed forces intervening” in the Sahelian country. Burkina currently hosts a contingent of nearly 400 French special forces, the Saber force. “In view of the one-month notice period imposed by the said agreement in the event of denunciation, the Burkinabè Ministry of Foreign Affairs would appreciate that particular diligence be given to this upon receipt”, specifies the document. Burkina Faso would be the third African country left by the French military since 2022, after Mali and the Central African Republic.
The Burkinabè diplomatic source was unable to confirm on Sunday whether Paris had acknowledged receipt of this letter. When questioned, the French presidency indicated that it was awaiting confirmation of the Burkinabé position at the “highest level”. Referring to “great confusion”, Emmanuel Macron explained at a press conference in Paris that he wanted to wait for the transitional president of Burkina, Ibrahim Traoré “to be able to express himself”, calling for “to be very careful” on the subject. . A source close to the Burkinabè government told AFP on Saturday that Ouagadougou requested “the departure of French soldiers as soon as possible”, confirming information from the Burkinabè Information Agency (AIB). On BFMTV, Marine Le Pen, the president of the RN group in the National Assembly, estimated that “France had no choice” to leave Burkina Faso, this Monday, January 23.
France challenged in Burkina Faso
On the French side, the scenario of a departure of French troops from Burkina Faso has been under study since the official end of operation “Barkhane” in November 2022. Niger is often mentioned for a transfer of French personnel. For several months, France, a former colonial power, has been contested in Burkina Faso. In December, the local authorities asked Paris to replace the French ambassador to Ouagadougou, Luc Hallade. The diplomat was in their crosshairs for having mentioned the deterioration of the security situation in the country. Several demonstrations, the last Friday, took place in Ouagadougou to demand in particular the withdrawal of French forces from the country. “France’s record in Burkina Faso is obscurantism, crimes against humanity, predation, neocolonialism, assassinations and terrorism”, protested Egountchi Behanzin, President and Founder of the NGO Black African Defense League (LDNA), on the television channel Africa Media.
On January 10, Paris sent Secretary of State Chrysoula Zacharopoulou to meet the transitional president there. “France does not impose anything, it is available to invent a future together”, she insisted, ensuring that she did not want to “influence any choice or any decision, no one can dictate their choices in Burkina”. Since Captain Traoré came to power, French diplomacy has been walking on eggshells with its Burkinabè interlocutor. On several occasions, his government has expressed its desire to diversify their partnerships, particularly in the fight against jihadism which has been undermining this country since 2015. The 34-year-old captain has made the choice of “all military” and does not hesitate to accompany his men in operation, earning him high popularity in the country.
Among the new partners envisaged by Ouagadougou, the question of a possible rapprochement with Russia is regularly raised, particularly in the military sector. “Russia is a choice of reason in this dynamic”, and “we believe that our partnership must be strengthened”, underlined last week the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, Apollinaire Kyélem de Tembela, after an interview with the Russian Ambassador Alexey Saltykov. At the beginning of December, he had made a discreet visit to Moscow. “We would like Russia to take its rightful place as a great nation in our country,” he said in an interview.
There is a “rapprochement with Russia” which “is at the expense of France”, affirmed this Monday morning, Paul Deutschmann, journalist, specialist in West Africa, on France info.
The African country seems to be in the sights of the Kremlin, increasingly exposed to Russian propaganda broadcast by state media Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, according to a study published last September by IRSEM researchers Maxime Audinet and Emmanuel Dreyfus.
“The Malian scenario seems to be repeating itself”
This new episode of tension recalls the precedent of neighboring Mali: last summer, the junta in power in Bamako had ordered French forces to leave the country after nine years of presence. Multiple sources report that the Malian authorities began bringing in the Russian paramilitary group Wagner at the end of 2021, whose actions are decried in various countries, which the junta denies. “The Malian scenario seems to be repeating itself in Burkina Faso, thus confirmed to The Express, Jean-Hervé Jezequel, director of the Sahel project at the International Crisis Group. After the suspension of RFI, the arrest of two French people accused of espionage, comes this pressure on the ambassador…” Burkina Faso, in particular in its northern half, has been confronted since 2015 with attacks by jihadist groups linked to Al- Qaeda and the Islamic State, which are multiplying, have left thousands dead and at least two million displaced.
On Thursday, around 30 people died in a series of attacks affecting several localities in the north and north-west of the country. Captain Ibrahim Traoré has set himself the objective of “recapturing the territory occupied by these hordes of terrorists”. With or without French troops.