In the Sahel, a convoy of the French army in the face of popular anger

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Burkinabe army officers patrol near a French armored vehicle parked in Kaya, November 20, 2021.

They arrived Sunday, November 28 in Gao, Mali, certainly more tired than usual but above all more educated on France’s difficulties in the Sahel and confused about the meaning of their mission. In two weeks of a trip that saw them cross Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, the hundred or so soldiers from Operation “Barkhane” responsible for escorting a banal supply convoy were able to measure to what extent they were both foreigners in this region and stakeholders in its problems. Objects of fantasies nourished by social networks, and of deep resentments in the face of their inability to stop a deterioration of the security situation there.

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In Téra, a small town in western Niger, Saturday morning, the invectives, the cries “Down with France! “, the dams of tires, wood, pieces of concrete which for several days had marked their journey have turned into a tragic incident. After throwing stones which injured two civilian drivers of the convoy, demonstrators, among the thousand counted, tried to get on trucks and set some on fire, according to the account of the staff of the armies. “Shots on the ground” were then carried out, recognizes at most the French army which does not so far endorse the responsibility for any dead or wounded.

Investigation

The Nigerien Minister of the Interior, Alkache Alhada, on the day of the event informed that an investigation had been opened since, “In her attempt to free herself, she [sans indiquer s’il s’agissait de la force « Barkhane » ou de l’escorte de gendarmes locaux] used force, unfortunately we deplore the death of two people and eighteen wounded, eleven of them serious ”. A third man has since succumbed to his injuries, report several sources in Niamey, where the minister was replaced on Monday after a reshuffle “Planned before this violence”, assures a close friend of Mohamed Bazoum, the head of state and surely the best lawyer in Paris in the Sahel.

Friday, while Téra was preparing to block the convoy just arrived from Burkina Faso, the Nigerien president had expressed his gratitude to the French soldiers and his desolation of “The campaign that is being waged against them”. “Of all the countries which are committed to our side in the fight against terrorism, France is the country which makes the most sacrifices. 53 young French people died in Mali ”, he greeted, before making this prediction that looks like a questioning for the soldiers of the region: “Me, I am sure that the day when the French pack their bags in Gao, it will be chaos!” The people of Gao know that anyway. “

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Only, “The populations here do not adhere to this line”, corrects Idrissa Soumana, former first deputy mayor of Téra and now advisor of this region of Tillabéri, the most affected by the successive killings that hit Niger. According to the count of several organizations, around 600 Nigeriens, mostly civilians, have been killed in jihadist attacks since the start of the year. “When they heard from the social networks of the dams in Kaya [au Burkina Faso], the children of Téra wanted to imitate them because they too are convinced that the French are supplying the jihadists ”, he reports.

Crisis of confidence with the youth

The wave of protests in Niger is the end of a fuse lit on November 16 in Burkina Faso, a country still shaken two days earlier by the massacre of 57 people, including 53 gendarmes, in Inata, attributed by security sources to Ansaroul Islam , a group close to the Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the branch of Al-Qaida in the Sahel. In Bobo-Dioulasso, in Ouagadougou and especially in Kaya, where at least four demonstrators were wounded by bullets, without it being again possible to say with certainty whether the shots came from French weapons, the soldiers of “Barkhane Were able to observe the crisis of confidence which separates Paris from part of the local youth.

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“That France delivers weapons to the jihadists? We think it’s possible ”, proclaims without fear the accusations of conspiracy Roland Bayala, the spokesperson for the Coalition of African Patriots of Burkina Faso. “She betrayed us. It has cooperation with our army which complained about the lack of weapons. France has failed in its duty and we no longer have confidence in its cooperation ”, hammers the one who is one of the spearheads of this mobilization, ready to open the doors “To all those who can guarantee peace” and who claims his “Close collaboration” with Yerewolo, a movement which militates in Mali for a departure from France and a Russian military intervention.

If, in Ouagadougou, opponents see behind these protests diversionary maneuvers by certain circles of power seeking to instrumentalize an old mistrust of France in order to protect themselves from popular anger, there is no doubt that in the current context, this anti-French flame warms the heart of Moscow. In Paris, the army staff is keen to minimize the scope of the incident and says it is studying “Different options for the next convoys. No worries “.

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