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Europe's minions in the Sahel

The same military forces that deposed the President of Mali in August 2020 arrested the interim president and the head of government on 25 May. They accuse them of “sabotage”. The arrested government representatives belong to a transitional council, which should lead Mali to elections within 18 months.

Assimi Goita, a 38-year-old colonel, was one of the leaders of the coup last August, he is considered the strongman in the Transitional Council. The first coup in August 2020 came after weeks of mass protests against then-President Keïta. Among other things, the demonstrators protested against corruption in the government and against the way Keïta led the fight against jihadist insurgents. Even now, the main question is what course to take to deal with the social hardship, polarization and disintegration of state structures in the countries of the Sahel zone.

As one NGO from Mali reports: “Malian civil society and some religious leaders were at the forefront of the popular protest that led to the resignation of former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020. One of the problems in Mali is the division of civil society. The putschists play one off against the other, all the easier because part of this civil society was disappointed by the interim government. In recent weeks, a wind of discontent among the population has been blowing and the demonstrations were on the verge of resumption. A strike of civil servants led by the central unions was underway.”

Even religious leaders who are very influential in Mali expressed concern about the interim government. Of course, taking advantage of this climate of mistrust, the putschists are now turning to the M5-RFP, a conglomerate of political and civil society organizations that Malier:innen took to the streets to demand the departure of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in 2020. After this first coup nine months ago, however, the putschists and their interim government ignored this movement.

The day before the second coup, protesters in the capital Bamako demanded the withdrawal of France from Mali and the intervention of Russia. And among the military, a line of rupture seems to be emerging between the Francophiles and the pro-Russians. In Mali, the shadow of Russia has been hanging over the country for a long time, and the anti-French and pro-Russian demonstrations are not new. When the military overthrew President Keïta, it was felt that France clearly did not support them, and even then it was rumored that they had another powerful sponsor. Especially since several of the putschists were trained in Russia.

Foreign interests are trying to exploit domestic tensions in the region as far as Susan and Somalia. The Managing director of the Afrika-Verein der deutschen Wirtschaft says: “There are always alternatives for all sides. China, Russia, Turkey and the Gulf states are working to expand their influence in Morocco and the Magreb region.”

The role of the military

Foreign countries reacted quickly to the renewed coup and the arrests of the government. In a joint communiqué, the UN Mission in Mali (Minusma), the African Union, the EU, the USA, France and Great Britain, among others, called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the head of the Transitional Council. Minusma is one of the world’s largest UN missions. Since the beginning of 2013, 220 UN members of the 15,200-strong unit have died (as of 2020). This makes the mission one of the most loss-making in the United Nations since the Korean War. In addition to Minusma, there are currently two European Union missions in Mali, namely EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUTM Mali, and MISAHEL of the African Union. In addition, 5,000 French forces and other partner nations are in the area as part of the Barkhane Opera and the G5 Sahel.

The new coup further destabilizes Mali, the 19-million-inhabitant country went through several crises – among other things, several jihadist groups have been fighting the Malian state since 2012. However, some of them are also autochthonous groups, for example from the Tuarek population.

In response to the second coup d’état, France is suspending its bilateral military cooperation with Mali" as a precaution and temporarily", i.e. the operations of the"Barkhane" force with the Malian army and the other G5 states from the Sahel, which are also engaged in this framework. In addition to Mali, these are Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, whose military intervention on the side of France, however, leads more to the export of violence and destabilization in the region.

In 2014, after the popular uprising against President Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso, it was initially the military that took power there. Although they allowed them decent civilians: inside the access to power, but in fact the military keeps the reins in the hand, the more difficult the conditions become. An operation against so-called jihadists began in Burkina Faso in early May, which did not go unanswered. The most recent expression is the murder of approx. 100 Civilians: inside a village for which no one has yet taken responsibility. In this village there was also a military barracks, which was first attacked. Throughout May, there were also attacks on villages in the north of the country and the killing of people cooperating with the military. On such occasions, vehicles and livestock are seized by the attackers who control the area. Since 2015, more than 1,300 people have died and more than a million people are considered displaced and fleeing the zones of violence.

France has strongly condemned the coup in Mali and threatened the coup leaders with sanctions. However, the French government recently approved the seizure of power in Chad of Mahamat Idriss Deby, the son of Idriss Deby, who died in April. In Niger, newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum narrowly escaped a military coup in March. The recent popular uprisings in Senegal, if not quickly brought under control, could have led to a coup d’état, as in Benin during the presidential elections and in Niger.

Emmanuel Macron had indicated in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche on May 30 that he would not “stay on the side of a country where there is no longer any democratic legitimacy”. “Radical Islamism with our troops there? No way.“There are quite relevant political forces in Mali and in neighboring countries, which apparently include the putschists, who want to advance agreements with the insurgent groups as a serious option. The French president is therefore targeting the profile of the new Malian authorities, which he fears are more open to “radical Islamism”. “If it goes in this direction, I will withdraw,” Macron had assured. Already in 2020, Macron had threatened a French troop withdrawal at a summit meeting with the G5 heads of state.

Mali’s membership was suspended a few days after the coup by regional bodies – the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – and the African Union (AU). In particular, ECOWAS called for the appointment of a prime minister who is not a military but a civilian, and for the presidential elections in Mali to be held on 27 February 2022. However, this cannot hide the fact that the mission, which has been going on for ten years, is not achieving its objectives. France is thus facing a similar situation in Mali to the US in Afghanistan.

Geostrategic importance in migration

Mali is about much more than securing natural resources (the world’s third largest uranium deposits). The entire southern edge of the Sahara is destabilized by various secular processes in its traditional social orders, which were anyway divided by arbitrary colonialist state borders. The spreading drought, population growth through better medical care, improved education for parts of the population with limited employment prospects – all this releases energy.

The conflicts on the northern edge of the Sahara, where many have worked as guest workers, the financial and currency crises and, more recently, the pandemic are affecting this valve function in the Magreb countries. At the same time, for similar reasons, migratory movements on the way to Europe are pushing forward to North Africa. They represent a not insignificant source of income for the local population (food supply, travel companion, etc.), which is quite contested, which is why the distinction between God warriors, criminal gangs, authorities and tribal princes is generally difficult.

Europe, and the EU in particular, has a special interest in ensuring that these conflicts and migratory movements do not spill over the Mediterranean. Therefore, they are involved in these states on the side of the more or less democratically established governments – if it has to be military. The conflict is of a more general nature.

Spain is involved, for example, because the EU is involved on the side of the “Western Sahara Liberation Front”, an area that was a Spanish colony until 1975. This enrages the rulers in Morocco, who claim this area on the southern edge of the state for themselves. By temporarily easing the border regime at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, around 10,000 migrants were able to enter the EU at the end of May, which, as is well known, begins there on the African continent. European efforts to control another stretch of the sea coast in Western Sahara, and therefore to upgrade the liberation movement and potential regulatory power there, are met with resistance from Morocco.

The Moroccan government’s statement on the fact that front leaders were not detained during a (hospital)stay in Spain, despite the existence of an international arrest warrant for torture and terrorism, quite blatantly alludes to the importance of their own country in the fight against illegal migration and Jihadist terrorism, which is financed by it, among other things.

As the second most important German investment location in Africa, Morocco receives significant funds from the German budget. These are by no means only Krabbenpuhl farms. With around 30,000 employees, they generate sales of approx. two billion euros. One of the most important projects is the “large-scale reference plant” for green hydrogen, whose costs are financed with 325 million euros by the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KFW). In addition to loan commitments of EUR 420 million, EUR 717 million will be provided as pandemic aid this year. Despite this economically important cooperation, Morocco recently withdrew its ambassador from Berlin.

The now planned return of bronze figures by Foreign Minister Maas, which were brought to the German Empire during the colonial period, and the recognition of the crimes of the imperial army to the Herrero as genocide with the willingness to pay compensation to Namibia, represent attempts to have a calming effect south of the Sahel in order to reduce the so-called migration pressure.

France has recently acted similarly. Last year, an expert report commissioned by the President of the Republic called for the complete return of colonial looted art and was accepted in principle by Macron. In May, Macron acknowledged his country’s complicity in the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda in the early 1990s. Marine Le Pen was quick to criticize the “culture of apology” prevailing in France.

from 1990 to 1994, the then president Mitterrand had strengthened cooperation with the ruling Hutu through military presence and development funds in order to defend the “Francophonie” in France. The victims of the massacres in the former German colony were primarily people with English, which is now the official language there. Those in power do not think much of the free press and opposition, but they have provided strong economic growth, increased education levels and expanded infrastructure in the country until the pandemic. The younger generation, born after the genocide (60% of the population), remains in the country and does not think about emigration. Rwanda and Morocco are countries where deported migrants are housed. Macron explicitly praised Rwanda’s handling of the migration issue.

Francophonie as a triad of language regime, formal democracy and development aid has become obsolete in France as a guideline for Africa policy. In Mali, which because of its special north-south extent is of strategic importance as a passage country, the topics are pooled. Therefore, who governs the country is important.

The coup focuses on the last functioning state authorities: the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Internal Security and that for the territorial administration. Despite the demands of civil society and most of the opposition, the interim government has always insisted that the Ministry of Territorial Administration, headed by a military officer, should monitor the upcoming elections.

Conclusion: With the second coup in a year, Mali is becoming a disaster for European security policy. In Paris, there is perplexity about the failure of their own security efforts for ten years, because despite an increasing military presence, the security situation could not be improved, but rather the state collapse was driven forward. In part, the European presence drives parts of the population into the arms of the Jihadist militias.

The German government was politically and militarily involved in these operations in the European backyard from the beginning, but left the management of the operations so far to the French governments. Now it is not only about financial burden sharing, but the call is getting louder to try more of the same under German leadership. It is all the more important for the left to strengthen the economic cycles in the region, to support the formation of national capital and thus the development of prosperity on the ground.