Tensions between Mali and former colonial power France have hit a new low with the military government giving the French ambassador until Thursday to leave the country. Annie Risemberg speaks to analysts about where relations are headed in this report from Mali’s capital, Bamako.
The French ambassador to Mali, Joël Meyer, has been given 72 hours from Monday to leave the West African country.
Meyer was summoned to the Malian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in response to remarks made by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
On Friday, Le Drian said Mali’s military junta, which seized power last May, was “out of control” and “illegitimate.”
Speaking on state television ORTM on Monday evening, Mali’s minister of foreign affairs, Abdoulaye Diop, acknowledged that the ambassador has been ordered to depart.
Diop said the ambassador is welcome to return if France changes its position on Mali but stated that France calling into question the legitimacy of the Malian government is a line that neither ECOWAS nor the U.N. has crossed.
He says this declaration is to call into question the legality and legitimacy of the authorities, with whom precisely the French ambassador is accredited. This creates a very difficult situation, because you cannot be accredited by an authority that you do not recognize yourself.
Anna Schmauder is a Sahel researcher at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael Institute, a think tank focused on international affairs. She spoke via a messaging application from The Hague.
“Well, I would say after this escalation and the expulsion of the French ambassador, the retreat of the entirety of the French Barkhane mission from Mali is definitely on the table,” she said.
Operation Barkhane is a French-led anti-insurgent operation in the Sahel launched in 2014.
Schmauder says any changes to the Barkhane mission in Mali will also likely affect the French-led European Takuba Task Force, and possibly even the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
But she adds that it’s too early to say what exactly could be the political fallout, because such a significant decline in Mali-France relations is without precedent.
Kalilou Sidibe, a professor of political science at the University of Legal and Political Sciences of Bamako and a political analyst, said the expulsion of the ambassador could push France to relocate the Barkhane base, which is currently in Gao, Mali, to another country in the Sahel.
He says despite the diplomatic setback, France plays an important role in the fight against Islamist groups.
Via a messaging application from Bamako, Sidibe also said that aside from the military implications, humanitarian projects could now be at risk.
"France invests and intervenes in several development and humanitarian programs in Mali," he says. "If they suspend the financing of these, this will have a negative impact in terms of livelihood for the community, in terms of access to basic resources, social services, sanitation, hygiene, education, and health."
Both Schmauder and Sidibe underscore that the expulsion of the ambassador does not signify a total rupture in diplomatic relations.