A few days ago, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the definitive withdrawal of France's military mission in the Sahel in the fight against terrorism: Operation Barkhane.
It should be remembered that Barkhane had up to 5,500 French troops deployed in Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. But in July of this year, France left Mali and redeployed its troops to Niger in the face of the confrontation with the Malian military junta and the arrival of the Wagner group in the region.
However, if the Malian government believed that with Wagner's entry into the country they could defeat jihadism, we have to say that the Russian mercenaries will not be able to defeat them either, given that they also lack air power and their capabilities are inferior to those of Barkhane. Moreover, the Wagner Company has been accused, along with the FAMA, of human rights violations against the civilian population, which is also why jihadist groups have increased their recruitment among the population.
In addition, France's departure means that al-Qaeda is expanding in southern Mali, along the border with Côte d'Ivoire and as far as Senegal, as there is no counter-insurgency activity there.
France will remain present in the Sahel, but in a different form. Whereas until now it has led missions in the fight against jihadist terrorism, now it will only assist the armies in the region in some operations.
However, Francophobia is spreading throughout Africa, fuelled by various Russian influence operations, demanding the end of all its operations on the continent and the dismantling of all French military bases. Although they are aware that they alone cannot defeat jihadist terrorism.
For this reason, France will leave 3,000 French military personnel in Burkina, Niger and Chad, but only to help and support local forces, particularly in terms of training, intelligence and as requested by these countries.
France also has bases and forces in Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Gabon and Djibouti. French engagement will be in the form of support, training or an operational partnership, but it will have to support states' efforts and in accordance with explicitly formulated needs.
The weight of colonial history also weighs on France's relationship with the Sahel countries. The French presence was sometimes 'experienced as a sovereignty dispute' or 'used' by opposing powers in the field of information.
President Macron has announced the launch of "a phase of exchange" to change the status, format and missions of French bases in West Africa and the Sahel. It will have to be completed within six months. Considering that after almost ten years of military operations, the expectations of African states have yet to be defined, Emmanuel Macron elaborates an observation of the failure of the Franco-Sahelian relationship. It needs to be reinvented, in a context where Africa has become the field of a hybrid confrontation between the West and its Chinese and Russian competitors. Wagner's Kremlin-linked mercenaries have supplanted France in Mali where they installed malicious narratives at the behest of external actors.
The war in Ukraine has shown that there are strategic priorities on France's doorstep, and that limited military resources could be better directed elsewhere than in a lost war in Africa.
Moreover, in the battle for influence in Africa that is taking place on the internet and social media, France has the unpleasant impression of being outmanoeuvred by unscrupulous actors, especially Russia.
The recent coup in Burkina Faso, where anti-French protesters were filmed waving Russian flags, was seen as further evidence of how hostile propaganda is turning the region's residents against France.
"When France is there, it is accused of interference. When it is not there, it is accused of neglect. Whatever you do, France is wrong," wrote Patrick Robert, a veteran Africa journalist, in Le Figaro recently.
France's exit from Mali creates a security vacuum that affects the international missions it supported - mainly logistically - both the UN mission and the European training mission for Malian forces, EUTM Mali.
However, despite France's exit with Operation Barkhane, France will remain present in the Sahel.
Many analysts accuse France of failure in the region, but it is not only France, but also the states that make up the Sahel, which in most cases are unable to control a large part of their territory, which is why in recent months we have seen a succession of coups d'état in Chad, Guinea and other nearby countries, in addition to Mali, due to the discontent of the population over the continuing situation of insecurity.
France now finds itself in a different situation in the Sahel with its exit from Mali and its repositioning to continue the fight against jihadist terrorism.
If there is a lesson to be taken into account, it is the need to take into account all actors involved in the area, the protection and perception of the civilian population and local realities, a lesson that so far does not seem to have been taken into account.
The strategy in the Sahel should be based on what has been called the 3-D strategy: Defence, Diplomacy and Development. While France has focused all its capabilities in the area of defence, it has failed in the area of diplomacy and development.
France has understood that it needs to change its strategy model in the Sahel and that it should stay in the Sahel because the violence there poses a serious security threat, because of its ties with France and its interests in the area, and because of the new arrival of Russia and Turkey.
This is why we are facing the end of a cycle that must be managed with a new strategy that involves a new intervention model in which, based on the lessons learned, we begin to work effectively in the Sahel, starting by rebuilding the states in all areas, not just the military, and dedicating special attention to the civilian population and local action, otherwise we will be making the same mistakes again.