President Emmanuel Macron warned in comments published on Sunday that France will pull its troops out of Mali if it lurches towards what he called “radical Islamism” following the second coup in nine months.
France has about 5,100 troops in the region under its so-called Operation Barkhane which spans five countries in the Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The mission, with its headquarters in Chad, was launched after France under former President François Hollande intervened in Mali in 2013 to help drive back fighters who had overrun parts of the West African country.
On Tuesday France and the European Union denounced an “unacceptable coup d’etat” after Mali’s interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were detained and stripped of their powers in what is being seen as the country’s second coup in less than a year.
Macron said he had told Ndaw that France, the former colonial power, will withdraw its troops if Mali turns towards “radical Islamism”.
“Radical Islamism in Mali with our soldiers there? Never,” he told the weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, referring to the rise of armed groups in the country.
“There is this temptation today in Mali. But if it goes in that direction, I will withdraw,” he warned in comments made during a trip to Rwanda and South Africa. Macron flew home to Paris on Saturday.
The French president added that he had given a message to West African leaders that they could not back a country “where there is no longer democratic legitimacy or transition”.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has invited Mali’s military leader Colonel Assimi Goita to Ghana’s capital Accra for “consultations” ahead of an extraordinary summit on Sunday devoted to Mali.
Goita flew to Accra on Saturday, military and airport sources said.
He had served as vice president since leading a coup last August that removed the democratically elected president, with the roles of president and prime minister held by civilians after pressure from ECOWAS, which has served as a mediator.
However, the transitional leaders were detained on Monday before being released on Thursday, with the military saying they had resigned.
The twin arrests triggered a diplomatic uproar and marked the second apparent coup within a year in the Sahel country.
Mali’s constitutional court completed Goita’s rise to full power on Friday by naming him transitional president.
With the military government going back on its previous commitment to civilian political leaders, doubts have been raised about its other pledges.
Macron, in his comments published Sunday, warned that if Africa’s development fails then Europe “will pay dearly in terms of migration”.
He stressed the need to “invest massively” adding that the international community must also erase some of the continent’s debt burden “to help Africans build their future”.