Mohamed Bazoum: “The end of Barkhane will create a vacuum that will benefit terrorists”
After a meeting at the Élysée, the President of the Republic HE Mohamed Bazoum, analyzes the consequences of the withdrawal of Barkhane and Takuba.
– What is your reaction to the announcement of the end of Barkhane and Takuba?
Mohammad BAZOUM. –
I obviously deplore this, because Barkhane and Takuba play a very important role in securing northern Mali, so close to Niger. Their departure will create a vacuum which will be filled by the terrorist organizations already very present in this region. This will be a threat that will jeopardize the entire stability of Mali first, then that of Niger and the sub-region by contagion effect.
France and Europe nevertheless want to maintain a presence in the Sahel. Is Niger ready to welcome more international troops?
The discussion we had on Wednesday evening led unanimously to the need for a reorganization of the system that was in place in Mali. This will lead in particular to a form of presence of these forces in Niger and on the territory of other African countries, a little further south, which may request it. In view of recent developments in Benin, it is clear that these countries have needs. It is foreseeable that a certain number of these forces will be deployed in these regions in the face of these new threats, as well as in Niger, which is already in turmoil. Things will become clearer from June and the protocols will be refined.
Where will this deployment take place?
There will be new establishments in Niger. Our goal is for our border with Mali to be secure. We expect that after the departure of Barkhane and Takuba, this area will be even more infested and that the terrorist groups will strengthen. However, we know that they are destined to extend their influence. The new bases will therefore not be far from Ménaka and Gao. They will especially welcome Takuba, because it has great advantages for us. They are special forces with capabilities responding to the threat posed by terrorist organizations. Takuba is also a force integrated into the Malian army and soon into the Niger army. We will have an agreement with the European governments which could intervene. Barkhane’s concept is a bit different.
Do you fear a collapse of Mali?
This worries me a lot. I cannot imagine what Mali could be like in a few months. This is why it is urgent that the current authorities of Mali reconnect with their partners and recreate a normal framework so that ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States: editor’s note) can lift its sanctions and that the international forces can, perhaps, redeploy. This would also save the assets of the Minusma (the United Nations mission in Mali: editor’s note) which could otherwise be called into question by the deterioration of the situation. In the Gourma, for example, Takuba and Barkhane are doing a remarkable job. But without them, the threat will weigh directly on Gao and also on Ménaka.
According to Paris, the break with the junta is mainly linked to the intervention of Russian mercenaries. What do you think?
This is the reason given by France and I have no value judgment to pass on the analyzes carried out by France. I also understand that she may consider that the conditions no longer exist to stay in Mali. I also think that it is preferable to have recourse to state structures rather than to personnel from private companies, whose ethics are not very assertive and whose action could pose other problems.
How do you view the military in power in Bamako?
These soldiers came to power by promising to secure Mali. I note on the contrary that, since they are there, the situation deteriorated considerably. Since the coup, all military posts on the Niger border have been deserted under terrorist pressure. There is no longer a Malian army on the Niger border, an area literally occupied by terrorists. So this promise did not come true. The military also planned to organize elections in eighteen months. Then, after sixteen months in power, they announced that these elections were no longer a priority before presenting, at the request of ECOWAS, a roadmap where they plan to remain in power for five years. All this indicates, in truth, that they are only alibis for exercising power and enjoying it, even if the situation in Mali deteriorates in all areas. In reality, we are dealing with a classic 1970s coup, a usurpation of power.
The junta was harshly sanctioned by ECOWAS. Should the penalties be tightened further?
I think that the military must respect their commitments. Mali is a sovereign country and it is the country that has been the most active within ECOWAS to have the additional protocol on good governance adopted. The Malian presidents have spearheaded this. When, in 1996, there was a coup d’état in Niger, then another in 1999, Mali was the country that was the most committed to ensuring that the texts were applied with great rigor. It is therefore completely normal that these same texts are applied to him today.
Don’t you fear that the increase in foreign soldiers in Niger will excite anti-French sentiment, which is already very present?
I like to remember one thing. In August 2020, after the coup in Mali, ECOWAS took action. We have not seen anyone denigrate ECOWAS and the Malian military had submitted to its will. The same soldiers decide seventeen months later that they will not leave power. ECOWAS is taking the same measures and there is a virulent campaign against it on social networks, accused of being in the pay of France. This campaign is skilfully prepared. Go to Gao and ask if Takuba and Barkhane are forces that matter to them! This is what counts for states like us. Our duty is to bring security to our populations.
It’s not purely virtual. In Tera, a Barkhane convoy was blocked by a crowd…
The crowd was made up of children, college students. It was Barkhane’s 32nd convoy and no one had noticed it until then. Suddenly, when the campaign I mentioned reached cruising speed, there were Nigeriens who mobilized unconscious young people. But it is not representative of an opinion, it remains marginal.
This campaign is based only on cliches and denigration for which those who are behind it have succeeded in creating favorable conditions for a certain receptivity.
By Tanguy Berthemet For Le Figaro