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Exclusive interview: Malian premier says France responsible for Mali’s security situation, economic woes

Choguel Kokalla Maiga says France carrying out 'political, media and diplomatic terrorism against our government'

Bilal Dinc and Umit Donmez   | 05.02.2022
Exclusive interview: Malian premier says France responsible for Mali’s security situation, economic woes

BAMAKO, Mali

Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga spoke about a wide range of issues with the Anadolu Agency ranging from the security and political situation in his country, factors that led to the 2020 coup, to bilateral relations with several international actors, including Turkiye.

In this first part of the interview, the prime minister accused France of influencing decisions of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc against Mali and the developments that led to Mali's enhanced collaboration with Russia.

Anadolu Agency (AA): In your comments on ECOWAS sanctions, you mentioned "geopolitical considerations. Can you shed more light on this? How did "geopolitical considerations" motivate the heavy sanctions against Mali?

Choguel Kokalla Maiga (CKM): For months, in all the international financial institutions -- France, the representatives of France -- have opposed the inclusion of any development project concerning Mali on the agenda. We noted that every time an ECOWAS summit is announced -- we do not know by what magic -- the French authorities are well informed about it, including knowing the exact date and possible sanctions. So, this led us to conclude that certainly, France is more informed about the outcomes of the summit than the ECOWAS heads of state.

For example, the French authorities had announced a month earlier that sanctions would be imposed on Mali by ECOWAS leaders at the Jan. 9, 2022 summit. The fact that the sanctions were eventually slapped on the government was a clear indication. That is why we have indicated that these sanctions certainly are one of the tactics to destabilize the government and ensure it fails in order to have a puppet government that would fall into line with the French authorities.

We have said it openly that the fact that they oppose everything that would breathe new life into the country's economy and systematically announce planned summits and sanctions raises questions about their intentions.

On military cooperation, the military agreements that bind us are violated by the French authorities. The proof is that in the north, there were French military bases that were set up as a result of the defense agreement between France and Mali. But abruptly, the French authorities decided that they were leaving these military bases without our notice. This drew our attention to the agreement because, in any case, if a party can violate it whenever it wants, it is better that we sit down together to reexamine it; remove what does not suit one of the parties to find common ground. And so for us, there is no doubt: the decisions taken against our country were not in the interests of the Malian people in particular and Africa at large.

It is incomprehensible that summits of heads of state are inspired by rumors and media reports from European countries to take resolutions against Mali. What is that? I want to be clear about that. You know, in Mali, the current leaders are analyzing the situation in the world, looking at what has happened elsewhere in terms of geopolitics and defense issues over the last 20 or 30 years and picking the lessons because those who do not learn from history, will learn it the hard way.

AA: What is your assessment of the current security situation in Mali and its development?

CKM: I will give you some scenarios before explaining where we are. We have observed that for 20 years, under the guise of the fight against terrorism, the 'international community' -- because when we talk about the international community, we are talking about a few countries that get along and speak on behalf of everyone -- has intervened in Afghanistan for 20 years. At the end of those 20 years, one day, they decided to leave. And we saw the Afghans in despair, clinging to planes. Our people have learned from this.

Won't everyone who is with us one day leave us? And this could be true in Mali, which has experienced an expansion of security forces. We have the Malian Armed Forces. You have the French Operation Barkhane, you have the United Nations operation, MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), you have the European operations (like EUTM EUCAP), you have the G5 Sahel, you have Takuba (European military task force).

Despite this 'security jam' year after year, the security situation is deteriorating. It's like a patient, the patient is there. The disease was diagnosed, a prescription and medication were prescribed. He is told that in two months, he will heal. After eight years, the disease, which had affected one part of his body, spread to other parts covering 80%. It raises questions whether the doctors are inefficient, the diagnosis was wrong, or the drugs are ineffective. That is what the government has done. We wondered why since 2013, when insecurity broke up, 80% of the territory had been invaded by terrorists, while there are all these international forces. Should we not look for another solution? Don't you have to change doctors? Change treatments and diagnosis, or both or all the three at once?

You know, there's a famous Chinese politician -- a very wise person -- [Deng Xiaoping] who said in the 1970s, when the Cultural Revolution was in full swing in this country, that "it doesn't matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice." Meaning a political system is only valid as long as it meets the needs of citizens. It cost him, but history proved him right when he came back to power as the founder of modern China.

This is an example that I give so that people can eventually understand our reasoning.

Looking at what we saw in Afghanistan, what we saw in Libya, where some countries obtained from the Security Council a resolution that allowed them to protect Benghazi from aerial bombardment by Muammar Gaddafi, overstepped that resolution to go and assassinate the president and sow disorder, we thought the situation in Mali could be the result of this disorder.

So you create chaos. You arm people. You tell them to go and divide Mali. The separatists clearly said that it was France that was behind the separatist movements of 2011 from Libya. The leaders of the movements said France had instigated them to invade northern Mali and divide it and create an independent state. We are not the ones saying that. It is the leaders of this movement who say so and are supported by French politicians.

We draw conclusions from that. In 2013, when the Malian government appealed to France to help it drive out terrorists, there was what is known as Operation Serval, which took place at the request of the interim government. As they say today that the government is not legitimate, the government that appealed to France in 2013 was a government in place after a coup. But let's move on. What was requested? In the letter that the Malian government addressed to the French government, of which there is no copy in the archives of Mali, neither in the defense nor to foreign affairs (ministries). We recently found it in France on the website of the French Senate. In that letter, France was asked for air support and intelligence. There were no plans to deploy French soldiers on Malian territory. The army was against it. France respected this until it set up a base in Kidal.

After arriving in Kidal, it blocked the way for the Malian army, creating an enclave where terrorists had years to reorganize. We are learning from that. They had to come and help us fight the terrorists. They zcreated the conditions for the sanctification of terrorism and the partition of Mali and the United Nations resolutions that it had come to defend because I say in passing that (former) French President François Hollande had clearly stated the objectives of Operation Serval: to destroy terrorism, restore state authority throughout the territory and implement the United Nations resolutions.

After nine years, we note that terrorism, which was residual in the north, has spread to 80% of the territory. State authority as of today is not restored throughout the national territory. The resolutions of the United Nations change every year. They are written by France. So much so that this year, our government opposed it.

It was in the Security Council Chamber that our ambassador discovered a draft resolution that called for an increase in the strength of MINUSMA by more than 2,000 troops. Our ambassador said that his government is not aware of it. We cannot, as they say in Africa, shave the heads of Malians in the absence of Malians. We cannot decide to send a military contingent to our territory without knowing its origins, missions, strengths, nationalities and objectives. So we opposed it. We have picked lessons from that too. We have what is called the "Takuba Force," which was installed in a somewhat cavalier way in 2019. It was after announcing it that African heads of state were summoned to sign their agreement in Pau, France (5 Sahel Summit of Jan. 13, 2019).

This operation has been there for almost two years. But zero points -- nothing to its credit in the fight against terrorism. But that is not the most serious thing. All the countries that have to send soldiers as part of Operation Takuba must have a written agreement with the Malian state. This is what was planned. The Malian government has sent an invitation to a number of countries. But when a country decides to come to Mali, it makes a written agreement that determines the conditions of engagement of the military on our territory. It is written in black and white.

We do not understand why some European countries, without having an agreement with Mali, decide to come. That is what happened with the Danish government. I explained to citizens so that the people would understand. When a Turk wants to go to Germany, you need an invitation. But when you have the invitation, it's not enough. You need a visa. That is what happened. Our government has invited the European states, but each state must have a specific agreement, a visa to be on our territory. And what we have not understood is why the Danish government came to our territory without a visa, without authorization. We have told them that we do not agree. And all the more so since recently, we feel there is growing French hostility against our government. I have explained to you all their obstructions aimed to suffocate the government economically.

We have seen all the games that have happened in the last nine years. We saw recently when they pushed ECOWAS to take unjust, illegal and illegitimate sanctions against the Malian state. Total embargo. While the embargo is being imposed, a French military plane enters our territory from an ECOWAS country, even though they have said that they are closing the borders. When they cross our territory, and they realize that we have sufficient means to detect their presence, they turn off the transponders so as not to be identified. Later, they turn off their radio so as not to be in touch with the control tower. They land on the part of our territory. They deposit whatever, and they return to this ECOWAS country.

The next day, it is MINUSMA planes that fly over Malian military bases for hours, while this is not the mandate of MINUSMA, and when our army interrogates, they say that it was France that asked for it. We have said that it is not the mission of MINUSMA to come and spy on military bases and therefore, we have clearly asked not to fly over our territory without authorization.

We have asked the Danish government to withdraw its forces until it complies with the agreements between us. When we did that, the French authorities, who want to govern Mali by proxy, described it as irresponsible acts. They throw all sorts of insults.

As a sovereign government, Mali felt that they had gone overboard. And I indicated in one of my last interviews that Mali has no problem with the European Union. But what we simply want the European Union to understand: France must not drag the countries of the European Union into their hidden agenda, which is different from the one they present to the European Union.

I also recall that the Western countries in 1885, precisely, on Feb. 28, 1885, at the Berlin Conference, had divided Africa into zones of influence. Mali gained independence in 1960. So there is no zone of influence. France cannot manage Mali's relations with the EU by proxy. Relations with Mali must be based on partnership. That is all we asked for. Because of this, they throw insults by talking about the legitimacy of the government. What I wanted to tell them is that when the government, which they called legitimate, was shooting in mosques to kill citizens by the dozens, we did not hear France speak at that time. And that cannot be disputed because UN reports have authenticated it. More recently, in 2021, Malians who were celebrating a wedding were bombed by French aviation. The UN report confirmed that the victims were civilians who were attending a marriage ceremony. France described it as terrorism, but who is telling the truth? So all these factors led us to say: we have to be careful. We can no longer allow foreign forces on our territory without a prior understanding of clear conditions.

We can no longer leave room for maneuver that can lead states to leave the commitments made with our state to go and accomplish an agenda that has nothing to do with what they have announced at the national level, to their public and to the international community. Well, it sparked what you know, and we were very clear, we must respect our people, we must respect their sovereignty. We are not asking for anything else.

AA: Mali does not hide its intentions to cooperate more with Russia, which has provoked the fury of France. Why this opening to Russia and why now?

CKM: Our country, our government, is in a position to collaborate with all those who want to help it restore security. What is not negotiable is the sovereignty of our country, its independence decisions, including on defense, and the dignity of our people.

This hullabaloo is due to the fact that, as I told you, we have all these doctors, all these militaries, more than 50,000 men on the ground, yet entire villages are exterminated. When we ask for the intervention of foreign forces, they tell us no, MINUSMA did not come to wage war. But right now -- what's going on? We want to buy planes from European countries, but we are blocked. We want to buy from the United States; we are blocked. The solution is to go to those who are not going to block us.

It's as simple as that. We went and concluded military cooperation agreements with Russia. We bought weapons from Russia and Russia is not alone as we are dealing with other partners. But due to the geopolitics geostrategic struggle between Russia and western countries, we are trying to sacrifice Mali on the altar of this battle that is not ours. Otherwise, Mali is working with other partners to equip its army at all levels.

So today, the results of this cooperation are tangible. In less than a month, our army has achieved spectacular results. The number of terrorists eliminated in less than a month is greater than what we have achieved in the last 30 years.

Now, the whole debate around Wagner and the Russians... In any case, we know where we are setting foot. The safety of Malians is our government's priority. The rest is propaganda, intoxication, and demonization.

As I say today, the French authorities are carrying out genuine political, media and diplomatic terrorism against our government with the aim of overthrowing it. What we have said to the ECOWAS countries is that we do not understand that it is at a time when we are achieving important results in the fight against terrorism that we are being stabbed; and to be careful, because the destabilization of the government and therefore of the Malian state, can lead to consequences that they do not expect. That is what I can say about that.

To sum up, we want to defend Malian citizens and their property. We want us to respect our sovereignty, to respect the dignity of our people and the freedom to choose their partners, including in terms of defense and security, whether it is the Russians or any other partner who gives us satisfaction.

* This interview was written in English by James Tasamba from Kigali, Rwanda

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