Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, member of the French government, met Tuesday, January 10 in Ouagadougou the transitional president of Burkina Faso Ibrahim Traoré to ease relations with this country plagued by jihadist violence, affirming that “France does not impose anything”.
The Secretary of State to the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, responsible in particular for development, met for nearly two hours with Captain Traoré, who came to power thanks to a coup d’etat at the end of September.
“France does not impose anything, it is available to invent a future togethershe said after the interview. I did not come here to influence any choice or decision, no one can dictate their choices in Burkina. and “We have agreed with President Traoré to move forward together in this state of mind. »
“In line with this message, France remains committed on all fronts [humanitaire, sécuritaire, développement]to the degree and in the forms desired by the Burkinabe authorities”said M.me Zacharopoulou. According to her, “France is able to do less or to do more, it is also and above all able to do differently, in listening, respect, humility, because (…) it is an expectation that is expressed, with force here”.
The replacement of the French ambassador
This visit comes at a time when France, a former colonial power, is being challenged in Burkina Faso and when the question of a rapprochement with Russia arises in this country destabilized by jihadist violence since 2015.
Last week, the French foreign ministry confirmed having received a letter from the Burkinabe junta asking for the replacement of the French ambassador to Burkina Faso, Luc Hallade. The diplomat, in office since September 2019, is in the sights of the authorities after reporting on the deterioration of the security situation.
“The authorities have asked for new voices, new faces. We have agreed to deal with the subject in good understanding and in diplomatic form.commented on Tuesday Mme Zacharopoulou. In October, several hundred people demonstrated to demand the withdrawal of France from this Sahelian country, which hosts a contingent of nearly 400 French special forces.
Then, on November 18, another demonstration against the French presence took place in front of the French embassy in Ouagadougou before moving to the Kamboisin military base, on the outskirts of the capital, where the special forces of the operation “Sabre”, responsible for tracking down jihadist leaders in the Sahel. The French Minister for the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, had not ruled out a departure from the country of these forces, while recalling that “Saber has had a key role in recent years in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel”.
Whether or not to maintain special forces
This strategic priority for nearly a decade for Paris, which has deployed thousands of soldiers in the region in several operations, is now facing growing hostility in some countries. In recent months, Paris has repeatedly repeated that France was willing to continue the partnership with Ouagadougou, particularly in the military field, provided that this partnership is desired by the Burkinabés. A key condition for whether or not to maintain the special forces, installed since 2011. “Nothing is done” to date, it was indicated Tuesday to the cabinet of the ministry of the armies.
The Malian precedent is also in everyone’s mind. After nine years of anti-jihadist struggle, the soldiers of the former colonial power left the country in the summer of 2022, pushed out by a hostile junta which appealed to the Russians, via the sulphurous paramilitary company Wagner.
Asked about a possible call from the Ouagadougou authorities to Wagner, Ms.me Zacharopoulou did not wish “commenting on hypotheses or speaking in place of the Burkinabe authorities”. “I’m just saying that every choice has its consequences”she said.
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France, which still has some 3,000 soldiers in the Sahel, after having mobilized up to 5,500 men, officially ended its anti-jihadist operation “Barkhane” in November, and has given itself until the spring to finalize its new strategy in Africa. “On the international level, we do not necessarily have the same point of view as everyone else, but we have also decided to be sovereign”Captain Traoré said on January 5.
Burkina Faso seems increasingly reluctant to call on French military aid. “The last solicitation [des autorités burkinabées] dates back to July 2022 », recalls the French staff. That is before the coup d’etat which overthrew Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, himself came to power by force in January 2022 by overthrowing elected President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.