Thousands in Mali celebrate planned departure of French troops
Thousands of anti-French demonstrators have poured into the streets of the Malian capital, Bamako, to celebrate the planned withdrawal of French troops from the West African country.
On Saturday, Malians burned the European Union's flag as demonstrators carried placards with messages such as “Thanks Wagner” and “France is a terrorist nation,” amid simmering tensions between Mali and its former colonial power.
The Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC), has allegedly been operating in Mali since December 2021, with France and its allies expressing concerns about the deployment of Russian contractors in the African country.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin in a press conference with his French counterpart in Moscow on February 7 declared that the Russian Federation has nothing to do with private military organizations that are operating in Mali.
Although France remains the only Western country with a significant military presence in the Sahel, its relationship with its former African colonies has grown increasingly tense in recent months. This has led to an evident increase in anti-French sentiment.
Paris announced Thursday it would withdraw thousands of its troops from Mali due to a breakdown in relations with the country, a decade after launching a war without the initial approval of the United Nations or the French parliament.
A statement signed by France and its African and European allies said on Thursday that “multiple obstructions” meant the conditions were no longer in place to operate in Mali.
The decision applies to the 2,400 French troops in Mali, where France first deployed in 2013, and a European force of several hundred soldiers that was created in 2020.
Relations between Paris and Bamako have deteriorated since the ruling military took power in August 2020.
Countries in West Africa’s Sahel region have abandoned their hopes in France’s supposed counter-terrorism efforts and started negotiating with armed militants to bring peace to the restive region.
The Sahel, a semi-arid stretch of land south of the Sahara desert, has been in turmoil since 2012, when a number of armed separatists started targeting the local population in Mali.
Observers accuse France of pursuing neo-colonialism in Africa, falsely claiming to fight terrorism as a pretext to maintain its influence in the region.