March 25, 2023

The attempted coup d’état in Burkina Faso once again highlights the weakening of French influence in West Africa, especially in favor of Russia, which is trying to ride the wave of hostility towards Paris from public opinion.

The picture in the country looks blurry after the ousted head of state refused to abdicate, but the anti-French tendencies are not new or random, they are gaining momentum, and the activity of jihadist groups is expanding in the Sahel region and expanding. towards the Gulf of Guinea.

About twenty-four hours after the coup against Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaugo Damiba, who himself came to power in the January coup, the putschists accused France of supporting his restoration of power, confusing the scene in light of the categorical denial of Paris.

On Friday, the putschists also reaffirmed their “determination to turn to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism.”

It was an implicit allusion to Russia, which raised its flags two days ago during demonstrations in Burkina Faso.

Ivan Goishava, an expert on regional issues at the University of Kent in Brussels, said on Saturday that “the putschists are very clearly linking their actions to the polarization between Russia and France.”

“It’s amazing that the putschists are so quick to express their enthusiasm for their outstanding ‘strategic partner,'” he added on Twitter. We imagined that they would first take power, and then they would escalate the situation.”

The expert put forward two hypotheses: “Either working with the Russians was their project from the very beginning, and therefore we are faced with a carefully crafted destabilization plan, or they are opportunistically using the French-Russian polarization to mobilize support for their failed project. ”

And the French embassy in Ouagadougou suffered two attacks, on Saturday and Sunday, during which security barriers were set on fire and stones were thrown, which represents the worst blow to Paris, as it falls into a dangerous trend.

In neighboring Mali, France deployed the anti-jihadist force Barkhan for nine years to fight groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State before two coups took place in 2020 that brought hostile military forces to power. , which led President Emmanuel Macron to announce the withdrawal of French troops and their redeployment to other countries in the region.

At the same time, elements of a private Russian group of mercenaries “Wagner” are deployed in Mali, which only speaks of the hiring of “instructors from Russia.” Since then, Moscow’s influence in Bamako has grown, especially through social media and Russian media.

A recent report published by the Institute for Strategic Studies of the French Ministry of Defense refers to “the proliferation of misleading content on the Internet, often aimed at misrepresenting the French presence and justifying the presence of Russia.”

He also referred to the spread of this phenomenon in a neighboring country. He said: “The country of honest people (Burkina Faso) today is one of the African countries that Wagner has set his sights on.” The report points to a significant increase in the number of readers of the French versions of the Russian media sites RT and Sputnik during the year.

Outside the Sahel, France’s influence is also clearly waning in what was once her “backyard” in West Africa.

The French report added that “the demand for democracy puts us in conflict with regimes that are in the process of backtracking in this regard, and they do not hesitate to refer to rivals who do not link their support to any internal criterion,” referring in particular to to the Russian proposal.

After leaving Mali, Paris promised not to give up the fight against jihadists who openly threaten the states of the Gulf of Guinea. There are supposed to be discussions between Paris and the African countries concerned, but France is willing to keep the matter under wraps.

In a statement to AFP this summer, Colonel Hubert Baudouin, deputy chief of Barkhane operations in Niamey, confirmed: “We are changing our paradigm (…) The intervention of a warship is no longer in line with the times.”

Asked about the coup in Burkina Faso, a West African security source confirms that the regional winds are unfavorable for Paris and asks sarcastically, “Who’s next?” He adds: “The slogan ‘France go away’ is also resonating in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, although so far these voices have been weak.”

France may eventually have to leave Burkina, where some 400 of its soldiers are deployed as part of a special Saber unit that trains the local army in barracks near Ouagadougou.

According to a military source who has worked several times in the Sahel region, this departure is “inevitable”.

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