Burkina Faso one year after the military coup: a repeat of the Mali scenario


One year after the coup d'état in Burkina Faso, France has been expelled from the country, repeating the same scenario as in Mali, and it seems that the overthrow of democratic governments in former French colonies in West Africa is becoming a trend, followed by France's exit and Russia's entry.

It was predictable that a year later, if Burkina Faso's coup government wanted to stay in power, it would have to kick France out and allow Russia in to continue its expansionist drive across Africa.

We have also seen a common element in these countries in the presence of Russian flags at demonstrations by the civilian population, which prevent French troops from redeploying, which does not seem to be accidental and could mark a possible redirection of events. What is certain is that hostility towards France has already spread from Mali to Burkina and will soon spread to other countries.

This is the result of months where Russia has been exploiting social media and some activists to generate anti-French sentiment. But it must be remembered that the longer the conflict in Ukraine continues, the more vigilant we will have to be on the African front.

With Wagner's presence in Burkina Faso and Mali at the strategic level, Russia would have a corridor connecting Libya to Guinea with access to the sea, which is what they are aiming for.

The problem of the Sahel crisis is ultimately the legitimacy of the state and citizens' perception that their government is valid and capable of meeting their needs.

This legitimacy requires a focus on protecting civilians and ensuring justice and accountability for human rights violations and abuses. In the absence of states' commitments to meet the needs of their citizens, no amount of international engagement is likely to succeed.

A state's legitimacy begins at the domestic level when its citizens consider their state capable of the job they have to do. However, the state loses this legitimacy when it fails to serve its people and serves its own interests or the interests of third parties.

As long as all these countries remain failed states, governments will not be able to control their territories or guarantee their security, so they will have to turn to other international actors to guarantee their country's security. 

After the dissatisfaction of recent years with France, we have seen Russia's entry into Mali, and we should not rule out the entry into the Sahel of other countries such as China and Turkey in the military, economic, political and strategic spheres.

The Sahel has become the new area of expansion for other powers to fill the gap left by countries such as France or the United States. We are facing a new scenario where Russia, China and Turkey will be present in the Sahel and where we will see whether the insecurity situation will remain the same or change.

Faced with the impossibility of defeating jihadist terrorism over the years, Captain Ibrahim Traoré promised when he came to power that the fight against terrorism would be carried out with partners other than France. The population's intention is already confirmed by the Russian flags visible during the demonstrations in Ouagadougou.

However, analysis suggests that the Wagner Group will be more brutal and less operationally effective than French counter-terrorism forces should Burkina Faso's military leaders request Wagner's assistance.

If Burkina Faso's coup leaders partner with the Wagner group, they already know what it has done in Mali with disastrous consequences for civilians and for countering violent extremism. Wagner is not an anti-terrorist force.

However, if Traore denies Russia's entry into Burkina, which is requested by a large part of the population and by influential businessmen, it is possible that it will happen to him as it did to Kabore or Damiba, who after denying Russia's entry into Burkina both presidents fell from power immediately in a new coup d'état. The question now is, will the new President Traore also fall in a few months if he does not accept Russia's entry and conditions in Burkina?

From my point of view, it is clear that France did not want to leave, but had no choice but to do so in the face of hostility on the part of the Burkinabe population and that Russia is using all its skills to replace France in Burkina as it did in Mali. 

It should be recalled that in December 2022, the president of Ghana stated that Burkina Faso had reached an agreement to recruit the Russian group Wagner, following the example of Mali. The statement came during the Africa-US summit and has put an end to months of speculation about Burkina Faso's agreement with the Wagner group.

According to the Ghanaian president, the Burkinabe government had allocated a mine in the southern part of the country to Wagner as a form of payment. His statement came as no surprise, as previously uncorroborated reports indicated the arrival of around a dozen Wagner employees in Burkina Faso.

The Wagner group's deployment comes at a crucial time, as jihadist attacks soar in the country, and national forces and paramilitary groups seem unable to push back JNIM and ISGS attacks. Approximately 40% of the country is outside state control.

Russia enjoys privileged economic relations with Burkina Faso, and the Russian company NordGold is the largest gold mining company in the country, operating at least three mines. In December 2022, the Burkina Faso government granted NordGold an operating permit for a new gold mine for four years, allowing for a total production of 2.53 tonnes of gold.

In late December 2022, the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso announced during a trip to Russia that his country had recently committed to diversifying its partnerships and wanted Russia to be an ally in the fight against terrorism.

In early January 2023, unconfirmed reports circulated that France would announce the departure of French special forces called "Operation Sabre" stationed in Kamboinsin, outside Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou. The full withdrawal is expected to take place in February. The announcement came amid fierce demands from the Burkinabe population for France to withdraw its troops from the country in the context of the alleged recruitment of the Russian group Wagner.

Russia, through Wagner and Nordgold, is in the process of getting its hands on Burkina Faso, which is cut off from many of its African partners. Burkina Faso's future will be similar to that of the Central African Republic and Mali and it will not benefit in any way from the wealth extracted from its country and will remain a target for jihadists and mercenaries alike.

In the Sahel, the domino effect continues and countries continue to fall into Russian hands in the face of the passivity of other international actors.