Emmanuel Macron spoke to Le Journal du Dimanche, a French Sunday newspaper, to explain his thoughts in a typical European post-colonial role of paternal figure in former colonies, most of which must enjoy the presence of Foreign Legion units until they grow up.
Such expresion of paternal care could be the reason why adult Malians were burning the French flag on the streets of bamako on Sunday.
As Mali is experiencing its second military coup in nine months, Macron underscored during a trip to Rwanda and South Africa last week that he had warned leaders in the west of the continent that the French government could not back a country “where there is no longer democratic legitimacy or transition”.
The question is whether France’s democratic committments are so strong as to quit benefitting from the 860 gold mines in Malian territory (the third largest African reserve) which some cynics may believe are Paris’ main concern in the country.
What Macron seemingly considers a “democratic legitimacy or transition” is a process designed nine months ago by army colonel Assimi Goita ,who masterminded the August 2020 coup d’etat that toppled democratically-elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The “democratic and legitimate” Goita – a self-proclaimed “saviour of the nation”- removed and arrested former Interim President Bah Ndaw, former Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and former Defence Minister Souleymane Doucoure on 24 May and taken to a military base before being stripped of their offices.
These officials were appointed by Goita himself, and were arrested for thinking that they could take their job for real and dismiss Goita’s friends in the Cabinet.
According to Goita, Ndaw and Ouane had “sabotaged” the transition back to democratic governance by firing two army colonels appointed to head the defence and security ministries without conferring with him, the Vicepresident and nation’s saviour, first, as is due in any respected democracy.
After a process of spiritual introspection and meditation in their army cells, the three were ultimately released on Thursday.
To make things right, Mali’s Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that the offices of vice president and interim president would be combined, making Vice President Colonel Assimi Goita – a western-trained soldier – the head of state.
The ruling contravenes a joint declaration issued following talks in the wake of last August’s coup, when the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Mali’s civil and military leaders had agreed that the vice president of the transition “cannot under any circumstances replace the president”.
Having the army behind, Goita does not seem to be very concerned about such details. But loosing the French troops might be a little more worrysome, because of a strong jihadist insurrection.
To calm things down, however, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc will continue cooperating with Mali on military training, despite the recent developments.
The European Council elected to extend the EU Capacity Building Mission in Mali (EUCAP Sahel Mali) for another two years, allocating $108 million for the period. More than 600 soldiers from 28 European states take part in the programme, launched in 2014 under the auspices of France’s Operation Barkhane, a War on Terror-style campaign against fundamentalist militias in the Sahel region.
So, Macron’s threats do not seem to have much weight after all, beyond the headlines.
In this reassuring context, ECOWAS has called an extraordinary summit of regional leaders on Sunday and is insisting that Mali’s interim government should be led by a civilian.