France has demanded that the G-5 Sahel leaders dismiss growing anti-French sentiment across the region if they wanted its military to continue its mission against Islamist militants. This demand was made recently at a news conference, by President Emmanuel Macron, after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO) summit in London. The G-5 Sahel includes Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania. 

“I want them (leaders of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania) to clarify and formalise their demands regarding France and the international community: do they want our presence and do they need it?” Macron said in the news report. He added that he wants “clear answers to these questions.” 

On the 1st of August, 2014, the French Republic began an anti-insurgent mission in the Sahel region of Africa known as “Operation Barkhane”, which is still ongoing. It consists of a 4,500-strong French force, with a permanent base in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital. France, as it stands, has the largest military presence, from the West, fighting insurgency in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania. 

But in recent times, security has progressively worsened. Militants connected to al Qaeda and Islamic State have strengthened their foothold across the region, making a large percent of its territory ungovernable and fueling ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso. This situation has put the French government under fire at home that its 4,500 troops are being bogged down alongside intense criticism in the Sahel region with growing anti-French sentiments. The most notable anti-French sentiment was last month when Salif Keita, a popular Malian musician, released a video on social media telling his President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, to stop being subjected to “the little kid, Emmanuel Macron.”

“I can’t have French troops on the ground in the Sahel when there is ambiguity (by authorities) towards anti-French movements and sometimes comments made by politicians and ministers,” Macron stated.

The death toll has risen to 38 for the French troop after 13 soldiers were killed in Mali last week since the mission commenced. A French helicopter had collided in the dark on a mission to hunt militants killing its crew members. It was the biggest loss of French troops in a single day since the commencement of Operation Barkhane.

 “Given what we have lived through, I believe they owe us clarity,” Macron said in a statement. He added that “France is not there contrary to what’s heard sometimes for neo-colonialist, imperialist or economic reasons,” while affirming that France is in the region for “collective security and the region.”

Recently, Burkina Faso received military aid from France due to lapses in its military might to defend the country from the attacks of insurgency groups. The French government, through its French Minister of Armed Forces, Florence Parly, announced, the release of its ground troop to the launch of  “ Operation Bourgou 4” on the country’s three borders -Mali, Niger and Chard borders.

Burkina Faso, previously a terror-free French West-African country, has become the target for many insurgency groups. A publication by the International Crisis Group(ICG) states that its army had become less alert after the departure of its former President, Blaise Compaoré in October 2014. The weakness of the country’s military might is one of the reasons why it is vulnerable to insurgent groups. 

Macron has invited the five Sahel leaders to come to Pau in southwestern France, where a regiment of last week’s fallen soldiers is based, on Dec. 16 to discuss the issue. These leaders will do well to resolve issues amicably with France given all they’ve been through together. There is also a need to put the interest of the people at heart while making their stance clear as French withdrawal from the Sahel may cause much loss for the African region.

By Ishioma Eni

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