Terrorist attacks against Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger continue unabated. Over the last year, violence in the three countries has increased by 36% with 2 737 serious incidents. The first two countries now trust their cooperation with the Russian Federation to overcome the scourge. They granted mining concessions to Moscow as a part of payment for its military assistance. The rapprochement between Ouagadougou and Bamako suits the two juntas, but complicates the fight against terrorism in the sub-region, already undermined following the departure of Mali from the G5 Sahel. However, Niger continues its cooperation with France, in this difficult fight. The organization scheduled next week summit in Ndjamena, indeed for time being without Mali, should indeed be a good indicator of that organization future and its large possibilities.

Neighbors, both Burkina Faso and Mali are ruled by military juntas and face terrorism. One, Mali demanded the departure of the French force Barkhane, in August 2022, and called on Wagner’s Russian paramilitaries. The other, Burkina Faso, cancelled in January 2023, the defense agreement with France, demanded the departure of the French special force Sabre, and is also turning to Russia. They even speak of creating a “Federation” with Guinea-Conakry, also led by a junta. Mali and Burkina Faso are writing a new page in their relations, driven by a common concern: the fight against terrorism. In both countries, the military took power to restore security. Along the way, a second coup was carried out, on both sides. Among the major explanations for the failure in the war they are waging against the jihadist hydra, the officers of the two countries have noted the ineffectiveness of the strategic partnership with the former colonial power, France.

Mali and Burkina Faso turned to Moscow.

Mali believes that after ten years of military companionship with France, the results are more than mixed. Worse, Bamako accuses Paris « of arming and informing terrorists ». Ouagadougou, drawing lessons from seven years of support from the same mentor, also lines up criticisms: lack of results, blocking of orders for weapons of his choice, therefore difficulty in forging alliances as he pleases, etc. In both cases, all eyes are on Moscow. Russia is perceived as more reliable in terms of military cooperation, faster in providing equipment and then more prompt in sending instructors. Mali hosted paramilitaries from the Wagner security company. In view of the horror that this entity arouses within the « international community », Bamako has never officially recognized this fact. It was Russian President Vladimir Putin who informed his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, during a one-on-one. Deadpan, Putin clarified to Macron that Wagner is « a private company », having little to do with the Russian state. Faced with this accomplished fact of communication, Mali did not flinch, but what it wanted to hide was revealed by a source that leaves little room for doubt. Suspected, by Ghana in particular of having established identical relations, Burkina Faso vigorously protested. If this is true, there is no doubt that sooner or later confirmation will come in the same way. For a simple reason: Russia will want to brandish this new trophy. As in Mali, Russia will not consult Ouagadougou before « delivering the information »…

The Alliance: advantages and disadvantages.

In the immediate future, certain advantages can be conceded to this convergence of analysis and this new solidarity between the two neighboring countries. The rapprochement at the top consolidates the confidence between the two armies, long suspicious of each other. Under the long reign of President Blaise Compaoré (October 15, 1987 – October 31, 2014), Malian rebel leaders were well established in Ouagadougou, fueling accusations of complicity between them and the Burkinabe state. In their new strategic cartography, Mali and Burkina Faso seem rather to tend towards a fusional relationship. Since the first coup d’état, in Ouagadougou, which occurred on January 24, 2022, so many work and friendship visits! After the second putsch, on September 30, 2022, the same profusion. Mali would have flown to the aid of Burkina Faso, during an airborne military operation. This friendship helps to strengthen solidarity against terrorism. Mali even acts as Russia’s sales representative with the current Burkinabe authorities, transporting officials to Moscow for negotiations on the acquisition of military equipment. This alliance with Russia makes relations between the two allies and neighboring countries, allergic to the presence of Wagner on their borders, most difficult. It also complicates the sub-regional fight against the jihadist. Indeed, the Ivory Coast said it was « concerned » by the departure of the Saber force from Burkina Faso, while cross-border terrorism is still rife. Ghana and Niger are concerned about Burkina Faso’s new military alliances, and have expressed it forcefully. Togo also seems upset by this fact. Some signs of this nervousness are noticeable. Thus, invited as guest of honor at the International Crafts Fair of Ouagadougou (SIAO), which was held from January 27 to February 5, the Ivory Coast declined this distinction. Togo, initially proposed with the same dignity at the Pan-African Film Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), which will take place from February 25 to March 04, 2023, was suddenly replaced by Mali, with a concrete explanation, provided by the president of the National Organizing Committee of the event: there is no problem with Togo but in view of the challenges of the moment, « there is no better partner than Mali to be the guest of honor « .

Moscow: a growing role in the Sahel.

Western countries, led by the United States, are trying to counter this penchant of some Sahelians for Russia. They denounce the operating methods of Wagner, during the fights, which they describe as brutal. They also point the finger at the parallel mining activities of this security company. According to the magazine Jeune Afrique, Wagner would have created two mining companies in Mali: Alpha Developpen, at the end of 2011, and Marko Mining, in April 2022. In Burkina Faso, two months after its took over, the new military regime decided on December 08, 2022, to grant the operating permit for a new gold mine to the Russian company Nordgold. This company already operated three other sites, through two subsidiaries. Elsewhere in Africa, Russian diplomacy is spreading its broad wings with equal success, which encourages Bamako and Ouagadougou in their outbursts towards Moscow.

In July 2022, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Egypt, Congo-Brazzaville, Uganda and Ethiopia. At the end of October 2022, Algeria announced the start of four days of maritime military maneuvers with Russia, in the Mediterranean. On January 23, 2023, the Russian diplomat was in South Africa and met his counterpart, Ms. Naledi Pandor and President Cyril Ramaphosa. In the process, the South African army announced that it will welcome the Chinese navy and that of the Russian Federation, during a multilateral maritime exercise, between February 17 and 27. These joint maneuvers will take place off Durban, the largest port in southern Africa, and Richards Bay, some 180 km further north of the country. From February 6 to 7, Sergei Lavrov made a « friendship and work visit » to Bamako, followed by visits to Mauritania and Sudan again. Mali seems to be positioning itself as the most incandescent focus of the Russian presence in the Sahel. The security and political idyll between Moscow and the ruling junta in Bamako shines through statements by the host and his Malian counterpart Abdoulaye Diop. The Malian authorities present the arrival of the Russian diplomat as a first of its kind. Lyrical on the edges, they proclaim that her visit materializes the firm will of Presidents Assimi Goïta and Vladimir Poutine to stimulate a new dynamic in their cooperation in the fields of defense and security as well as on an economic scale. The Russian Minister promised that his country would continue to support the Malian Armed Forces, in order to make them more operational and more professional. In fact, Russia sees further, bigger, in the African continent. For the diplomat, Moscow wishes to help other countries in the Sahel, and beyond, in the field of the fight against terrorism. Vladimir Putin, in person, will give more details on the New African policy of his country, during the next Russia-Africa summit, which will be organized, in July 2023, in his native city of Saint Petersburg. Colonel Assimi Goïta, rather a homebody, has sworn to participate.

Note that Abdoulaye Diop, who is not stingy with symbols, offered his illustrious Russian counterpart, as a souvenir, a magnificent sword. Europeans special forces deployed in Mali in 2020 and pulled out in July 20222 at Mali request had been known as Takuba or Sabre in Tuareg language, the Tamasheq.

The eponymous French Special Forces, which had been based in the Ouagadougou suburb of Kamboinsen since 2010, are packing up, Burkina Faso having denounced the related agreement in January this year.


Consultant, Centre4s.