2022: The World This Year

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2022: The World This Year
French Exit from Mali: More questions than answers

  Poulomi Mondal

TWTW#196, 31 December 2022, Vol. 4, No. 45


What happened?

On 20 February, hundreds of Malians celebrated on the streets as the ruling military government of Mali ordered the immediate departure of the French troops out of the country following the announcement of France to withdraw from the West African state.

Following this, France stated that “given the attitude of Mali’s Junta leader, allied with the Russian mercenaries of Wagner, we have suspended our public development aid to Mali”. However, it will continue to support the various civil society organizations in the country for stabilization purposes. 

On 9 November, Macron announced the official end of Operation Barkhane while delivering a keynote speech during his trip to the Toulon naval base where he presented a New National Strategic Review (RNS). While Mali wanted the transition “without delay”, France stated a time limit of six months for implementing the same.

Referring to the recent backlashes against the European and mainly French forces in the Sahel region, he said that the decision was a “consequence of what we have experienced’ in recent months and their would-be a strategy overhaul to be worked with the African counterparts within the next six months. This announcement marked the ending of a counter-terrorism operation that began in January 2013 in Mali with the launch of Operation Serval, later renamed as Barkhane. This also sees the end of a transition withdrawal of the French troops from Mali which began in August 2021.

What is the background?

First, deteriorating Franco-Malian Relations. The downhill of the relations can be seen stemming from the 2020 military coup in Mali, replacing elected President Ibrahim Bubacar Keita, followed by a second military takeover in May 2021. Since then, the Malian military has been alleging a covert French involvement in inciting regional and local powers against the military rule. 

Second, counterterrorism in Sahel. In response to the increasing terror landscape, France began its military operation in Sahel under Operation Serval and later renamed as Barkhane. With various measurable achievements, the tactical success of the operation can be witnessed by the killings of high-profile extremist leaders such as Abdel Malek Droukdel, Bah Ag Moussa and others which later got overshadowed by France’s irrefutable failures to curb extremism in Mali after 2014. The operations were considered as a neo-colonial move, and additionally, lack of considerable outcomes raised questions on the basis of the operations. 

Third, the emerging Russian factor. The presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group brings geopolitics at the helm of the issue. These mercenaries have also been linked with several attacks on civilians and mostly areas under strong Islamist control. According to data by the NGO Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), as many as 456 civilians died in nine incidents surrounding the Wagner group and the Malian authorities between January to April in 2022 itself. The investigations for the Moura massacre also involve the alleged involvement of the group killing around 380 people in a four-day period. In 2021, Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly acknowledged the presence of the Wagner group for commercial purposes in Mali, but the group seemed to be called in for “missed missions” with the Malian soldiers after striking a deal with the new military rulers. 

2022 witnessed the French exit from Mali, however, it raises more questions about an uncertain future than provide answers with certainty. It questions the terror trail of the region as the European states downsize their military contribution in the Takuba taskforce; and the effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping in Africa, which has been subjected to numerous attacks in recent years. 

About the author

Poulomi Mondal is a Postgraduate Scholar at Pondicherry University.

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