Malians demonstrate against French military presence

February 5, 2021

By Carlos Lopes Pereira

The author writes regularly on African events for the Portuguese Communist Party. This article was published in the PCP newspaper Avante on Jan. 28. Translation: John Catalinotto.

There have been further protests in Mali against the presence of French troops in the Sahel.

On Jan. 20, the Malian authorities dispersed “several hundred people” in Bamako who, defying the ban on gatherings because of the health crisis, expressed their opposition to the presence of the “anti-jihadist” force sent by Paris to the Sahel.

According to reports from  Agence France Presse  and other sources, police and soldiers “in large numbers” used tear-gas grenades to disperse the demonstrators, on foot and on motorcycles, concentrated on Independence Square in the Malian capital. Motorcycle caravans leaving from different neighborhoods to participate in the demonstration in the square, where demonstrations are usually held, were stopped by police roadblocks.

In the face of police action, a spokesperson for the promoters of the protest declared that the movement had been suspended and will “reorganize” itself. He reported three lightly wounded and at least three arrests.

France has been intervening militarily in Mali since 2013. Currently France has 5,100 soldiers in the Sahel, as part of Operation Barkhane, which operates with land and air forces mainly in Mali but also in Niger and Burkina Faso. Operation Barkhane’s headquarters are located in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad.

In Mali, notes RT France, the presence of the French expeditionary corps in the region regularly arouses expressions of animosity on social networks, in declarations of personalities and at demonstrations in Bamako. France’s intervention in Mali has had U.S. logistical and intelligence support. [Instability increased enormously in the Sahel region following the U.S.-NATO imperialist overthrow of the Libyan government in late 2011. — WW]

Several supporters of the recent protests are members of the National Transitional Council, a legislative body, created after the Aug. 18, 2020 coup d’état, whose military leaders promised to hand over power to civilians after 18 months. The coup perpetrators have pledged to continue military cooperation with France, but there are reports that some sectors, including the armed forces, are in favor of opening talks with insurgent groups.

On the ground, however, terrorist attacks against Malian and French troops continue, causing casualties among military and civilian personnel. Later, the Malian army confirmed that a double attack by “extremists” in the central region of the country caused the deaths of 6 soldiers and about 30 insurgents.

The actions took place simultaneously in Mondoro and Boulkessi, near the border with Burkina Faso. The targets were a barracks of Malian troops in Mondoro and a combined G5-Sahel barracks with troops from Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad in Boulkessi.

These events come at a time when French President Emmanuel Macron is signaling that Paris will soon “adjust” its “military effort” in the Sahel by downsizing the troops of Operation Barkhane — a way of pressuring other European countries to engage even more in the Mali war.

Mali is where more than 1,000 European Union military “instructors” are already involved, and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Mission for the Stabilization of Mali (MINUSMA) has been stationed for years, with around 14,000 soldiers and police.