Why do African public opinions reject Western military interventions?

Why do African public opinions reject Western military interventions?

TV5MONDE: External interventions on the continent are increasingly decried by African public opinion. Why is a military operation like Serval, launched in Mali just ten years ago, no longer possible today?

Seidik Abba: It must be recognized that the context of these interventions has changed significantly on the continent. A few years ago, all that was needed was the agreement of a government in place in an African capital, for this intervention to be deployed. But today, we must take into account the context of these interventions. Because African public opinion is very attached to issues of sovereignty. In principle, they do not want to see any foreign presence on their soil, and favor the possibility of building national responses to any form of crisis, rather than calling on external interventions. And this feeling of rejection was also fed by the fact that usually, we find that these interventions did not meet all expectations, and the arguments that were developed to justify them.

Just look at what happened in November 2021. Barkhane’s convoy which left Côte d’Ivoire and was to cross Burkina and Niger, with the agreement of the local authorities, was stopped in Kaya by young people, despite the fact that the Burkinabé government agreed to him crossing the country. Then, this convoy was stopped by young Nigeriens who, there too, despite the agreement of the authorities of Niamey, resisted to the point where there were three people who died during the demonstrations.

Moreover, the high command of the gendarmerie of Niger had been dismissed after these events. There is today a context of emergence of African public opinion attached to their sovereignties, very concerned about what they are told and who no longer accept foreign military interventions without flinching.

TV5MONDE: Until recently, civil society organizations such as “Y’en a marre” in Senegal, “Filimbi” and “La Lucha” in the DRC, or the “Balai citoyen” in Burkina Faso, were the main relay of these public opinions. The latter sometimes free themselves from it today. How can we explain it and what is the role of social networks in this evolution?

Seidik Abba: In 2012, “Y’en a marre” in Senegal spearheaded the resistance to President Abdoulaye Wade’s desire to run for a third consecutive term. In the DRC, “Filimbi” and “La Lucha”, which are citizens’ movements bringing together youth organizations, have also energized the struggle for the consolidation of democracy under the regime of former President Joseph Kabila. We could also cite the role played by the “Balai citoyen” in Burkina Faso in the fall of Blaise Compaoré in 2014, and in the rejection of General Gilbert Diendéré’s coup a year later.

Each time a civil society movement has the wind in its sails, there is this temptation of power to try to weaken it, hoping that the protest will run out of steam.

Seidik Abba, journalist and writer

But today, the rise of social networks favors sometimes spontaneous demonstrations, which escape any possibility of repression on the part of the powers in place. Whenever a civil society movement has the wind in its sails, there is this temptation of power to try to weaken it, hoping that the challenge will run out of steam.

(Re) read: “In Senegal, civil society organizations oppose the 3rd term of Macky Sall”

With social networks, there is no real leader, no precise governance, and therefore no possibility of repression. I take the example of Niamey, the capital of Niger. People connect on Facebook, launch a slogan saying: let’s meet at such a place to protest against the deployment of the Barkhane force in Niger. So people come together to protest. And you can’t always arrest a thousand people at the same time.

Just after taking power, a man holds a portrait of Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Tuesday, January 25, 2022.

Another example with the fall of the regime of Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba in September 2022 in Burkina Faso, where we saw that it was very spontaneously that people found themselves in Bobo Dioulasso, or even in Ouagadougou, thanks in particular to calls on social networks. There wasn’t a leader to go to, or to go and arrest to put an end to the protest. There is therefore this form of spontaneity in the demonstrations that social networks have created, and which means that today, whatever the power in place in an African capital, it is obliged to scrutinize what is said on the networks before taking a decision at the national level, especially if it concerns a foreign intervention. And I think it’s a step forward for democracy in Africa.

TV5MONDE: On social networks, African public opinion gives the impression of supporting Russian interventions on the continent (Central African Republic, Mali, etc.), whereas in principle they reject all forms of military intervention, particularly those led by France. How to explain such a paradox?

Seidik Abba: Many believe that all those who denounce Western interventions in Africa, and in particular those of France in the Sahel, are being bought off by Russia. Although it is an oil country, I am not sure that Russia has so much money to buy all these people who criticize the French military interventions on the continent. What absolutely must be seen is the feeling of disappointment that has been created by the lack of results of Western interventions in the Sahel. When we take the Barkhane operation for example, the fact that this operation did not give the expected results created a form of very deep rejection. People have got it into their heads that the next partner will do better than Barkhane anyway. Disappointment with Operation Barkhane in the Sahel has created hope that whoever comes next will do better. And Russia exploits this situation.

When Operation Serval was launched in Mali in 2013, it was greeted with drums. There was really great popular enthusiasm. There are even people in Malian families who gave their children the first name of Damien Boiteux, the first French soldier to die in combat in Sévaré on January 11, 2013. This proves that originally there really was immense hope that had been aroused by this operation. Hence the enormous disappointment that people feel today. And Russia exploits this context of disappointment towards the French intervention. But it also takes the opportunity to exploit colonial resentment. Because indeed, in most African capitals, this colonial history whose accounts are still struggling to be settled, fed this resentment.

But in my latest book, “Mali-Sahel, our own Afghanistan? », I would point out that there is also a very favorable reception reserved for Turkey in many African countries at present. Turkey could also be the next power in the Sahel which will make a much bigger breakthrough than we think. In addition to the absence of a colonial past, Turkey invokes considerations of religious proximity, at the same time as possibilities of economic financing. It is all these elements put end to end which explain the rejection of the French intervention and this welcome reserved for Russia.

TV5MONDE: Can we say that the anti-French sentiment that has been talked about a lot for some time, is fueled by this colonial resentment?

Seidik Abba: In reality, and I was able to see it on the ground, there is no anti-French feeling in the Sahel. For example, to my knowledge, there are no acts of deliberate aggression by French citizens because they are French. Another example, there is no boycott of French brands either. There is no boycott of Air France. In addition, there have never been so many airline openings between France and the countries of the Sahel. And I believe that there have never been so many visa applications for France in the countries of the Sahel. Which proves that there is no rejection of France as such.

(Re) see: “Sahel: the official end of Operation Barkhane”

On the other hand, there is a rejection of France’s current policy in the Sahel, which is particularly linked to the choices that have been made, but also to the arrogance that the French authorities have shown. For example, the Malian junta enjoys great popularity today in the countries of the Sahel, even though this junta has no agenda for Mali, nor even good relations with the local political class. . People consider that there is an aggression of France towards the junta, and there are remarks which were made and which gave the feeling that France continued to behave as in colonial times.

For many people, it is as if France had still not understood that Mali was a sovereign country, and that the Malian authorities are partners of France and not governors of a colony. It is all this that has fueled the rejection of France’s current policy, and therefore the rejection of Operation Barkhane on which people no longer had any readability. They tell themselves that this operation was useless, since the terrorist phenomenon has experienced a great territorial extension. It has reached all the countries of the Sahel, and today it even touches the countries of the Gulf of Guinea, with Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire and perhaps soon Ghana.

(Re)see: “Sahel: France continues to fight against terrorism”

It is fortunate that France has decided that there will henceforth be a combat partnership, which means that the French and Sahelian armies will fight at the same time. So there is this change that occurs after ten years! All of this took a long time. When we talk about anti-French sentiment, it can give the impression that people don’t want France in a somewhat superficial way. No ! They do not want the current policy of France. And if this policy changes and it gives results, I am sure that in African public opinion, things will change. France still has many assets on which it can play to change its perception within African public opinion. Provided however that it changes paradigm, that it makes its self-criticism.