Mali: shortly before the break – politics

In the end, France was all about saving face, at least a little bit. After the military government in Mali expelled French Ambassador Joël Meyer on Monday evening and gave him 72 hours to leave the country, the Foreign Ministry in Paris called Meyer back. It should sound like a voluntary return after many years in Mali. In truth, it was an expulsion without warning, and relations between the former colonial power and the landlocked West African country are at rock bottom. Just as Mali’s junta’s relationship with almost all European partners is deteriorating every week.

The most recent conflict was preceded by the Malian government’s order that around 100 Danish special forces who had just arrived should leave the country. They were “surprised” by their arrival, Mali’s government said. Denmark, on the other hand, announced that it had accepted an invitation. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian then described the junta as “illegitimate” and criticized its decision to expel the Danes as “irresponsible”. The government of Mali then quibbled that the ambassador could not be accredited by authorities that France did not recognize. Because of the “hostile and outrageous statements” he had to leave the country.

The French-led Operation Barkhane was launched in 2014 to combat IS and al-Qaeda groups that have killed thousands in the Sahel. However, relations between Paris and Bamako had recently deteriorated sharply, starting with President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement last June that he intended to withdraw half of the 5,000 French troops in the region. Barkhane will be replaced by the multinational “Takuba” mission, for which Germany is also providing soldiers as part of the EU training mission EUTM.

Since then, Mali and France have almost exclusively exchanged threats and insults. Paris is particularly bothered by the takeover of power by the military after the double coup in August 2020 and May 2021, but more recently by the up to 300 mercenaries from the Wagner company, which the junta brought into the country. The force, which is linked to the Russian government, is said to be involved in combat operations. The junta, in turn, accuses France of being behind the tough sanctions that the West African economic community Ecowas imposed on Mali in early January.

Emotions against France

Paris initially did not retaliate diplomatically for the ambassador’s expulsion, probably in order not to increase tensions. In France, however, an early break in the relationship is expected. There is no longer any doubt that the military rulers wanted to “drive France out of Mali,” he said The world a diplomat. They deliberately turned the emotions of the population against France in order to stay in power. Many Malians now hate the French and their years of influence, and the policy of the putschist President Assimi Goïta, who was also trained in Germany, is perceived as “anti-colonial”.

The French are still present in Mali. The next steps are being discussed with the partner countries, said a Paris government spokesman on Tuesday. France will continue to fight terrorism in the region, Le Drian said recently, “but no doubt under different conditions.” The EU has assured France of its solidarity. Foreign affairs officer Josep Borrell said two weeks ago that we remain committed, although “not at any price”.

As the Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday, the EU states agreed to impose travel bans on five members of the Malian junta and to freeze their assets. The reason given is the junta’s decision to postpone the elections announced for February to 2025.

Developments in Berlin are being followed with growing concern. On the one hand, because it affects the security of our own soldiers. The Bundeswehr is involved with 328 soldiers in the EU training mission EUTM and with 1170 soldiers in the UN mission Minusma. On the other hand, because a heart of German security policy is affected. Last but not least, the former federal government was concerned in Mali with demonstrating support for France and counteracting accusations that Germany was doing too little against the advance of terror in the European neighborhood. The impending collapse of France’s engagement in Mali almost automatically calls German participation into question.

In any case, the extension of the two mandates by the Bundestag is due in May. The traffic light coalition has not yet decided how to proceed. Of course, it has an impact that the “already serious situation has worsened even further,” says Agnieszka Brugger, defense politician and deputy leader of the Greens in the Bundestag. The expulsion of the French ambassador is a “further provocation” on the part of the military rulers.

The traffic light is now in a dilemma. After the disaster in Afghanistan, there should not be another headless withdrawal. However, with the training mission in particular, the question arises as to whether it can still be justified after two coups by the military. In the event that the situation worsens dramatically again, everyone in Berlin is preparing for everything. Also to a quick end.

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