France’s Macron holds meeting with Mali’s interim leader ahead of G5 Sahel

French President Emmanuel Macron has met with Mali’s interim leader on Wednesday to discuss joint security operations in the region amid a rise in jihadist attacks. This comes on the heels of the dissolution of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, a military junta which took over after the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August last year.

It’s the first time that Mali’s interim leader Bah N’Daw will be hosted by a president of a country outside the ECOWAS regional reach.

He sat down for a working lunch with President Macron at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday, accompanied by members of the Malian cabinet and some members of the press will be present.

The meeting comes fresh on the heels of a government decree signed by transition prime minister Moctar Ouane on Tuesday announcing that Mali had finally officially disbanded the ‘National Committee for the Salvation of the People,’ the junta behind last year’s coup.

Mali has witnessed a lenghthy political crisis following the ousting of president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on 18 August.

The uprising came in part over the government’s inability to stop the Islamist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.
Elections within 18 months

Under the threat of international sanctions, and pressure from the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, the coup leaders were to hand power to a caretaker government, which is meant to rule for 18 months before staging elections.

But Mali’s military retained a tight grip on the interim government, with Coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita taking up the post of interim vice president, raising questions about the military’s continuing influence.

France, the former colonial power in Mali, first intervened in 2013 to drive back jihadist forces advancing on the capital, Bamako. Today its Barkhane force has 5,100 troops on he ground to help the G5 Sahel armies of Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger to fight Islamists in the Sahel region.

Macron has said that he intends to “adjust” France’s efforts in the region, and is counting on the new European force, Takuba, to support troops.

French leaders will meet leaders of the G5 Sahel forces at a summit in Chad on 15 and 16 February to reassess the strategy.

Meanwhile, the Malian army said in a statement Tuesday that from 2-20 January over 100 jihadists were killed, 20 captured and several motorcycles and other equipment confiscated as part of a joint French and Malian army offensive in the centre of the country.

Une centaine de terroristes neutralisés, une vingtaine capturée et plusieurs motos et matériels de guerre saisis, c’est le bilan d’une grande opération dénommée ‘’#Eclipse’’. Elle a été planifiée et exécutée du 02 au 20 janvier 2021 par les #FAMa et la force #Barkhane.
— Forces Armées Maliennes (@FAMa_DIRPA) January 26, 2021

The Eclipse campaign targeted the Douentza-Hombori-Boulkessi region, in the centre of the country, bordering Burkina Faso, controlled by groups with links to al Qaeda and the Islamic State armed group who regularly carry out raids on the army and civilians.

“The purpose of this operation was to force the enemy out of its areas of refuge,” the army said.

Last week France announced that some 20 jihadists were killed by French forces and their partners in the north of Burkina Faso.
Assessing France’s involvement

There are questions about the effectiveness of France’s involvement, which is coming under scrutiny in Mali and from rights groups.

Several NGOs have requested an independent inquiry into a French airstrike near the village of Bounti on 3 January, which villagers said killed some 20 civilians, including women and children, during a marriage ceremony.

French and Malian authorities insist that the strike eliminated dozens of jihadists, and there were no civilians.
Peace agreements

In a separate development, representatives from herder and farmer communities that have become ensnarled in violence sparked by jihadist attacks in central Mali have signed three “peace agreements,” a Swiss mediator said.

The accords brings together the Fulani, also called Peul, who mainly comprise semi-nomadic herders, and the Dogon, who are chiefly sedentary farmers.

The two groups have historic tensions over access to land and water, but the friction turned bloody after jihadists pushed into their region more than five years ago.

A Swiss organisation called the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) said Tuesday that three agreements were signed between January 12 and 24 after four months of mediation.