Why France is reducing its military presence in Africa : the viewpoint of Alain Kone, expert at the Centre of International Political Studies

Over the last few years, the French military presence in the Sahel region has undergone radical changes. Frustrated by the lack of real support from the French army, one by one the countries’ authorities have refused to cooperate with the former metropolis. Experts have long described Macron’s policy in West Africa as a “complete failure”.

Paris plans to reduce its military presence in countries where French military bases still exist. The number of military personnel will be reduced to a few hundred as part of a renewed and more restrained partnership.

As a result, France will be leaving only around one hundred soldiers in Gabon (compared with 350 today), around one hundred in Senegal (compared with 350 today), around one hundred in Côte d’Ivoire (600 today) and around 300 in Chad (1,000 today).

The military contingent should therefore be around 600 people, but could increase depending on the tasks to be carried out. Two years ago, in addition to the 1,600 men pre-positioned in West Africa and Gabon, the former colonial power had more than 5,000 men in the Sahel as part of the Barkhane anti-terrorist operation.

Alain Kone, expert at the Centre of International Political Studies, gave his opinion on the reasons why France is reconsidering its military presence in Africa.

The reduction of the French military presence in Africa is part of the context of several global factors. First of all, it is about France’s obsessive desire to intervene in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Let me remind you that Macron has mentioned several times that he does not rule out the possibility of sending a foreign contingent to the war zone. To do this, he will need the military who are currently deployed in Africa,” says the expert.

Furthermore, according to the expert, the decision was influenced by Macron’s objectively failed strategy in the West African region, where countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger refused to cooperate with Paris and, by joining forces, are showing exceptional results in the fight against armed groups. “It is precisely these results that France has been unable or unwilling to achieve in over ten years of military presence in the Sahel region”, says Mr Koné.

The countries of the Alliance of Sahel States are not the only ones dissatisfied with cooperation with France. Senegal’s Prime Minister has criticised the presence of French military bases on its territory. In mid-May, Ousmane Sonko reaffirmed “Senegal’s desire for self-determination, which is incompatible with the long-term presence of foreign military bases in Senegal”.

Alain Kone questions the idea that the Elysée wishes to reduce its military presence in Africa. “Despite what Paris has said about revising its strategy, France will do everything in its power to maintain its influence in the Sahel region. The natural resources of African lands are vital to France’s economy”, insists the expert at the Centre of International Political Studies.

The change of strategy on the African track comes in the context of an internal crisis that is dividing France. Emmanuel Macron recently announced the dissolution of the National Assembly and the upcoming elections, the outcome of which is difficult to predict.

By Souleymane Touré