The presence of the French forces in the context of Operation Barkhane in the Sahel meets a growing rejection in the public opinion of several African countries, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
This question was directly addressed by President Emmanuel Macron on 4 December at a press conference on the sidelines of the NATO summit, held in Watford near London, a week after the death of 13 French soldiers in Mali. a helicopter crash. "I can not and do not want to have French soldiers on any soil of the Sahel either at the same time that the ambiguity persists with respect to anti-French movements, sometimes carried by politicians", has it -he declares.
Do they want us and do they need us? I want clear answers. ' 10 days after the accidental death of the 13 French soldiers at #Mali @EmmanuelMacron conditions the maintenance of #Barkhane to 'clarifications' of # G5Sahel #ParisDirect pic.twitter.com/aM4IKezKfR- Pauline Paccard (@PaulinePaccard) December 5, 2019
And to add firmly: "I expect the G5 Sahel countries to clarify and formalize their requests, do they want our presence, I want clear and accepted answers" about the French presence on site. Comments urging the leaders of these countries to react and that suggest that Paris seems to consider withdrawing its forces.
A "need for clarity" that prompted Emmanuel Macron to invite the heads of state of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad to a summit in Pau on December 16th. This initiative, perceived as a "convocation" to "paternalistic tone" by some African media and on social networks, will aim to "re-evaluate the terms of our legitimate presence in the Sahel," he said on Twitter.
To re-evaluate the terms of our legitimate presence in the Sahel, meet with G5 Sahel leaders on December 16 in Pau for a Barkhane Summit.- Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 4, 2019
While Operation Barkhane, led by the French forces, in partnership with the G5 Sahel and the UN (Minusma), is fighting, since its launch in August 2014, against jihadist groups and supporting the armies of countries concerned by the terrorist threat, the region remains the object of more and more frequent attacks.
Jihadist violence persists in northern Mali and has spread to the center of the country as well as neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. The losses are increasingly heavy for local armies, and questions about the strategy employed have multiplied. Especially in local public opinion, tired of many years of conflict. Several events were organized during the year in Bamako and Ouagadougou against the French presence.
French army targeted by fake news and rumors
In parallel, a certain anti-French sentiment has developed in recent weeks, thanks to fake news extremely viral targeting the French army. Infos with conspiracy accents shared thousands of times on social networks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, accusing France of playing the game of jihadists to justify the maintenance of its military presence in the region.
One of these reports claimed that the French army had struck a Nigerian military base in Diffa, a city in the south-east of the country, with the aim of maintaining the jihadist threat. The anti-French comments of Internet users accompanying the publication dated November 23 took on such proportions that the local authorities and the French Embassy in Niger reacted the very next day. "Coarse and shameless lie France is alongside Niger and its G5 Sahel partners in the fight against terrorism," the French diplomatic mission wrote on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The embassy 🇨🇵 formally denies the "fake news" circulating on social networks on an alleged strike by Barkhane against FAN 🇳🇪 in Diffa. Rude and shameless lie. France is alongside 🇳🇪 and its partners @ G5_Sahel_SP in the fight against terrorism- France in Niger (@ambafr_au_niger) November 23, 2019
More recently, on December 2, an alarmist message accompanied by four photographs on which we see a French military plane unloading dozens of motorcycles, supposedly doomed to be delivered to jihadists, was spread on social networks in Mali. The fake news entitled "The Malian army risks terrorist attacks in the future days (sic)", posted on a Malian Facebook page, was the subject of a double denial of the Malian and French armed forces. The Ministry of the Armed Forces has indicated on its website that these photographs illustrate the reception by force of 60 motorcycles whose final destination is the Malian army.
@FranceauMali denies the false allegations of the delivery of this equipment to terrorist groups.
These bikes were indeed transported by Barkhane on December 2, and delivered to the Famas to equip new mobile units. https://t.co/l31RfeO2AM
In addition to the fake news, a certain political speech tinged with nationalism directly attacks France. In June, the Burkinabé Defense Minister, Cherif Sy, questioned in the columns of a South African newspaper about the reasons for the operation in the Sahel. "I am surprised that the French have not been able to eradicate these terrorist gangs, we are asking questions, do they really want to, or do they have another agenda?"
Moreover, in a statement issued on November 15, the French Embassy in Mali reacted to a filmed declaration by the famous artist Salif Keita, in which he blamed France for the continuation of the war in Mali. evokes its alleged links with terrorism in Mali. The embassy felt that "such speeches are the game of those who seek to sow discord and maintain chaos.They are also an offense to the memory of civilians and military, Malian, French and international victims of terrorist barbarism. in Mali".
The guest #RFIMatin from @FredRiviereRFI and @ChBoisbouvier
François Lecointre, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces "To say that the French army is present at #Sahel to loot natural resources is insulting. I can not stand these false allegations anymore. "#Barkhane #infox pic.twitter.com/HQDP7BMHP9
Recently questioned by RFI on rumors suggesting that the French presence in the region would be motivated only by colonialist aims, General Francois Lecointre, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, expressed his indignation.
"I can not stand these rumors, these allegations and these false accusations that do absolutely terrible evil and havoc in the public opinion of the countries we come to help," he said. "The military leader that I am, who loses men in combat, tells you that, obviously, this is not the meaning of our action ... When I hear accusations like these, I find that it is particularly offensive, serious and dramatic. "