January 25, 2022

In northern Mali, “Barkhane” left, but the authority of the Malian state did not return

By Cyril Bensimon and Morgane Le Cam

Posted today at 10:43 a.m., updated at 4:31 p.m.

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“Barkhane” is gone. After Kidal and Tessalit, French soldiers left the city of Timbuktu on Tuesday, December 14, to fall back on Gao, their last base in Mali. A departure from the north of the country announced in June by Emmanuel Macron, as part of the “Deep transformation” of the French military presence in the Sahel and while Mali is currently accumulating crises.

In Timbuktu, if a city authority fears “A great security vacuum”, Abdoulaye, a guide who has not seen a tourist for more than ten years, greeted the news with a certain indifference. “The French could have stayed again to bring peace and keep trade a little bit more efficient”, He said, while acknowledging that his current concern is more focused on the inter-communal violence that rocked the city after the death of two young people on December 7.

The Malian flag flies over the former French military base in Timbuktu on December 14, 2021.
French soldiers during the handover ceremony of the Barkhane base to the Malian army, in Timbuktu, December 14, 2021.

Almost nine years ago, on January 28, 2013, a thousand French soldiers and two hundred Malian soldiers entered as liberators in the city with the famous adobe mosques. The jihadists who had occupied it for nearly nine months had just fled it. Masters of the place, they had sacked fourteen mausoleums because, they said, “God doesn’t like that”. Carried away by the speed of the reconquest, François Hollande, a few days before experiencing here the walkabout surely the most exhilarating of his political life, could then triumph – “We are winning this battle” – and promise that “France is not intended to stay in Mali”. Gao, in the east, had just been conquered, and Kidal, the stronghold of the Tuareg rebellions, would soon be conquered.

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The idea of ​​a lightning war has long since vanished. The story of a common victory has given way, in recent months, to acrimonious exchanges between Paris and Bamako. In Mali, the power of the moment and its supporters now sew the blue-white-red flags horizontally to show their desire for Russian intervention. Emmanuel Macron, expected on site on December 20, is in the delicate position of one who repeats that “France is not abandoning Mali”, at a time when its presence is disputed and when its troops throughout the Sahel must be reduced from 5,000 to around 3,000 men, by 2023.

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