The attempted coup in Burkina Faso further underscores the diminishing French influence in West Africa, particularly in favour of Russia, which is trying to ride a wave of hostility to Paris on the part of public opinion.
The scene appears blurry in the country after the ousted head of state refused to abdicate, but the anti-French trends are neither new nor random, and they are gaining increasing momentum, while the activity of jihadist groups is expanding in the Sahel region and extending towards the Gulf of Guinea.
About twenty-four hours after the coup against Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaugo Damiba, who himself came to power following a coup in January, the putschists accused France of backing him to restore power, confusing the scene in light of a categorical denial from Paris.
On Friday, the putschists also affirmed their “determination to turn to other partners who are ready to help in the fight against terrorism.”
This was an implicit reference to Russia, which raised its flags during demonstrations in Burkina Faso two days ago.
Ivan Goishawa, an expert on regional affairs at the University of Kent in Brussels, said on Saturday that “the putschists include their move very clearly within the polarization between Russia and France.”
“It is surprising to see the putschists express their enthusiasm so quickly for their distinguished ‘strategic partner’,” he added on Twitter. We imagined that they would take power first and then escalate the situation.”
The expert put forward two hypotheses: “Either working with the Russians was their project from the beginning, and therefore we are facing a carefully studied plan to destabilize, or they are opportunistically exploiting the French/Russian polarization to mobilize support for their faltering project.”
And the French embassy in Ouagadougou was subjected to two attacks, Saturday and Sunday, which witnessed the setting of fire to protective barriers and throwing of stones at them, which represents the most severe blow to Paris because it falls within a dangerous tendency.
In neighbouring Mali, France deployed the anti-jihadist Barkhane force for nine years to combat groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, before the country witnessed two coups in 2020 that brought to power hostile military personnel, which led President Emmanuel Macron to announce the withdrawal of French forces and their redeployment in other countries in the region. .
In parallel, elements of the private Russian mercenary group Wagner deployed in Mali, which only talks about hiring “trainers from Russia.” Since then, Moscow’s influence in Bamako has increased, particularly through social networks and the Russian media.
A recent report issued by the Institute for Strategic Research of the French Ministry of Defense spoke of “the spread of misleading content on the Internet, often aimed at distorting the French presence and justifying Russia’s presence.”
He also referred to the spread of this phenomenon in the neighbouring country. He said, “‘The Land of Honest Men (Burkina Faso) is today one of the African countries targeted by Wagner.” The report pointed to the significant increase in the number of readers of the French versions of the Russian media sites “RT” and “Sputnik” within one year.
Outside the Sahel, France’s influence is also clearly waning in what was once its “backyard” in West Africa.
The French report added that “the demand for democracy puts us in conflict with the regimes that are in the process of retreating in this regard, and they do not hesitate to refer to competitors who do not link their support to any internal criterion,” referring in particular to the “Russian offer.”
After withdrawing from Mali, Paris vowed not to back down from the fight against the jihadists who openly threaten the Gulf of Guinea states. It is assumed that there are ongoing discussions between Paris and the African countries concerned, but France shows a desire to conceal the issue.
In a statement to AFP this summer, the deputy head of Barkhane operations in Niamey, Colonel Hubert Beaudoin, confirmed, “We are changing our paradigm (…) Intervention with a warship is no longer in keeping with the times.”
When asked about the coup in Burkina Faso, a security source from West Africa confirms that the regional winds are not favourable for Paris, and sarcastically asks, “Who’s next?” He adds, “The slogan ‘France leave’ is also echoed in Senegal and Ivory Coast, although these voices have so far been weak.”
France may eventually have to leave Burkina, where about 400 of its soldiers are deployed in the special Saber force that trains the local army at a barracks near Ouagadougou.
This departure is “certain” in the opinion of a military source who has worked several times in the Sahel region.
Writted by : Manal bengilale