“There’s only one thing you should be doing about the French soldiers: applaud them.” That’s what French president Emmanuel Macron told a Burkinabe woman during an official visit to Burkina Faso in 2017. It’s a statement that particularly resonates today.
In Kaya, the main city in northern Burkina Faso, Burkinabe protesters opposing the French presence in the country blocked a convoy of about 60 trucks and 100 French soldiers for several days. The convoy was carrying arms from Ivory Coast to Niger as part of Operation Barkhane, the French-led military operation headquartered in Chad that began in 2014 against Islamist groups in Africa’s Sahel region. To break the blockade, French soldiers and local police fired warning shots, injuring four people — including hitting one person in the face, according to L’Humanité.
People in Burkina Faso, just as in Mali and Niger, are increasingly hostile to these military operations, which have been dragging on for years and have been largely ineffective against jihadism. In fact, Operation Sahel seems to be feeding the phenomenon, just as French neo-colonial domination in Africa feeds poverty and creates a breeding ground for the most reactionary organizations.
Jihadist violence has been taking a toll on the region. The latest terrorist attack, just a week ago, killed 20 people in Inata in the northern part of the country.
Burkinabes have denounced the causal link between the presence of the former colonial power and the growing strength of these jihadist groups. A young boy who shot down a French army drone was carried on the shoulders of the crowd as a hero — a David-versus-Goliath symbol representing the exasperation of the Sahel population with the French military presence in the region.
“We don’t need the French army. We can fight the jihadists ourselves,” one protester told FranceInfo.
In Burkina Faso, jihadists have killed more than a thousand people since 2005, and neither the French intervention nor the local army has been able to stop these attacks. On top of that, the French army and local allied forces have perpetuated all sorts of abuses on the population. Since the beginning of the French intervention, Islamist organizations have grown and expanded their influence in various parts of Burkina Faso and other African countries. The bottom line: the French operation has actually deteriorated the security and military situation.
The mobilization against the French troops in Burkina Faso is not just indicative of the failure of the “war on terror” that serves to justify military intervention in Africa. It is also a direct thorn in the side of Macron, who has been trying hard to realign his military presence in the Sahel. It is a difficult, high-stakes operation, because French imperialism depends heavily on its economic, political, and military hold on a significant part of the continent; it is what allows France to continue to be part of the group of the world’s “great powers.”
It’s time to stand against the French military intervention in the Sahel, and to stand in solidarity with the people of Burkina Faso for the withdrawal of imperialist troops from Africa and for the liberation of oppressed peoples!
First published in French on November 23 in Révolution Permanente.
Translation by Scott Cooper