France Shifts Gears in the Sahel as Russia’s Influence Grows

France Shifts Gears in the Sahel as Russia’s Influence Grows
Malians demonstrate against France on the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Mali in 1960, in Bamako, Mali, Sept. 22, 2020 (AP photo).

A decade after France began its military intervention in Mali to oust jihadist militants from the country’s north, its influence in the Sahel region of West Africa is waning. Bilateral security cooperation agreements with its regional partners are largely in tatters. Anti-French sentiment is on the rise. And Russia is elbowing its way in as a new prominent security guarantor in a region long regarded as a French sphere of influence.

Against this backdrop and ahead of his visit to the continent last month, French President Emmanuel Macron outlined a new “framework for security cooperation” as part of a new approach to relations with African countries.

In a speech delivered before embarking on the four-nation visit to Gabon, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Macron laid out this new approach, which he said will be rooted in “humility” and “respect.” This shift is to revolve around two main axes. First, France will end its practice of establishing military bases in African countries and instead lean on enhanced collaboration with regional militaries. Those partnerships will include the use of military bases, training sites and academies on the continent, with the support of France and other partners. Second, France will increase the range of trainings and equipment available to its African partners.

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