In Burkina Faso, imbroglio on a request for the departure of French special forces

Demonstration against the French presence in Burkina Faso, in Ouagadougou, January 20, 2023. OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT / AFP

A strong uncertainty reigns, since Saturday January 21, between Paris and Ougadougou. Almost two days after the release of a dispatch from the Burkina Information Agency (AIB), indicating that Burkina Faso had “denounced” the defense agreement which organizes military cooperation with France on its territory, and which conditions, in particular, the presence of several hundred French special forces, doubt remains about the reality of this request, at the top of the Burkinabé executive .

“I’m waiting for the interim president [Ibrahim] Traore can express themselves”declared Emmanuel Macron at the end of a Franco-German council of ministers in Paris. “I think you have to be very careful and make sure that, [ce qui] is a specialty of some in the region, who may incidentally be linked with (…) our Russian friends, [certains] do not manipulate, so we are waiting for clarifications from Mr. Traoré on this subject”, added the President of the Republic.

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.

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According to concordant sources, until Sunday evening, the denunciation of the defense agreement between France and Burkina Faso – which must be the subject of a formal notification – had not reached Paris. And this, although a letter that looks like a letterhead from the Burkinabe Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where this request appears to have been made, on January 18, began to circulate on Sunday on social networks. Has this letter been sent? It is mainly on this point that uncertainty still reigned Sunday evening.

Doubts about possible manipulation

Contacted by The world in the evening, the presidency and the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso both claimed not to have been informed of this letter potentially implying a departure of the French special forces within a month. When questioned, the French army staff indicated that it did not wish to comment, remaining on the posture adopted since the start of this imbroglio: low profile.

The wavering between Paris and Ougadougou and the doubts about a possible manipulation of information are largely linked to the dissensions that cross the Burkinabe junta. Ibrahim Traoré has to deal with very different sensitivities within his executive and the army. To the point that some observers consider him quite isolated, his strategy to stem the progression of jihadist groups being considered divisive.

Read also: Burkina Faso: after his putsch, Captain Traoré dreams of being a new Sankara

The military rapprochement with Russia to the detriment of France would not be unanimous. During a discreet visit to Moscow at the beginning of December 2022, Apollinaire Kyélem de Tambéla, the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, announced a strengthening of cooperation with Russia. At the same time, several security and diplomatic sources mentioned the arrival of “some men of Wagner” end of December to negotiate a possible future establishment of mercenaries in the country in order to “secure the power of President Traoré” and of “help him fight against terrorist groups which today control more than 40% of the territory.

On the eve of the confusion around the request for the departure of the French army, Friday, January 20, during a rally organized by the Collective of Pan-African Leaders (CLP), bringing together several organizations favorable to the junta, many Russian flags were agitated by the demonstrators gathered in the city center of the capital, noted The world. Several hundred Burkinabés then demanded the departure of the special forces and of the French ambassador Luc Hallade, whose replacement was demanded at the end of December by the transitional authorities.

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“Terrorists have been attacking us for years and the French army, one of the most powerful in the world, has not helped us. If France had wanted to, she could havesaid Mohamed Sawadogo, a member of the CLP and dressed in a T-shirt bearing the image of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Captain Traoré.

The hypothesis of a departure under study for months in Paris

Will Ibrahim Traoré confirm this request made by his Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Since coming to power, the latter has on several occasions demonstrated his desire to ” to diversify ” his country’s partnerships. “In the hours to come, you will see a certain amount of information tending to review our relations with certain States”he declared in particular in front of the students of the University of Ouagadougou, on January 17, announcing at the same time that the “fight for sovereignty” was ” engaged “.

Military cooperation between France and Burkina Faso – which goes beyond the issue of the location of special forces – has always been complicated. Whether under the presidency of Roch Kaboré, from 2015 to 2022, or during the time of his successor, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, author of a first putsch in January 2022, requests for French military support have not never been linear. In particular because of the constant concern to avoid publicity so as not to offend public opinion which has always perceived cooperation with France as a loss of sovereignty in the face of the former colonizer.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Burkina Faso: the French military presence on borrowed time

The hypothesis of a departure of French troops from Burkina Faso is in any case a scenario under study for many months in Paris. Both because of the official end of the “Barkhane” operation, in November 2022, in which the special forces participated a lot, but also because of the broader redefinition of the contours of military cooperation in Africa, wanted by Emmanuel Macron. A new roadmap is promised for the next few months by the Elysée. Niger is one of the countries often mentioned for a transfer of French personnel.

Elise Vincent and Morgane LeCam

The article is in French

Tags: Burkina Faso imbroglio request departure French special forces

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