One would be vindicated in asserting that the legacies of colonialism have birthed a renewed scramble for Africa. This is apparent when one dissects the security situation in Mali and West Africa at large where real independence and sovereignty have largely been elusive because of the intrusive influence of external powers. The diplomatic tiff between French and Russian leaders over the security situation in Mali is an attestation of unending neocolonial supremacy on the continent.
French leaders have had a tough time over allegations that Russian mercenaries are in the course of training Malian soldiers. The perception held by the French political elite assumes a monopoly as regards solving the security crisis in Mali that has never shown signs of abating since 2012. The uneasiness exuded by French armed forces and foreign ministers over the infamous Russian private military contractor, Wagner Group, is palpable. In November, French ministers said that the deployment of Wagner Group mercenaries in West Africa was “unacceptable”.
Just a few days ago, the European Union (EU) resolved to impose a raft of sanctions on the Wagner Group, as well as three entities and “seven or eight” individuals with ties to the private military contractor “after France pressed for punitive measures citing human rights abuses”. France is clearly displeased with Russia taking over the security situation in the Sahel in the wake of French failures to end the ongoing security crisis that has caused infinite terror. This is not to say that Russia is the bastion of virtue – both countries are brandishing a nauseating form of neocolonial arrogance in which African territories are merely toys to pass each other as it is a family inheritance squabble.
The call for sanctions comes in the wake of reports that Wagner Group is deploying mercenaries to Mali for the purposes of alleviating the security crisis in the region which France has apparently failed to contain. French media outlet France 24 carried a frantic report that read, “Are Russian mercenaries really training Malian soldiers?” and it spoke volumes of the neocolonial entitlement it harbours over its former colonies. The question really is why France seems extremely concerned to the point of making a whole report out of it – without ever realizing its own hypocrisy.
What France vs Russia has shown us is that the battle for neocolonial supremacy is far from ending in Africa. While Malians may be genuinely disillusioned with French liberal interventionism, embracing Russian help in the form of the Wagner Group is equally dangerous. It is true that the Wagner Group may be dangerous given its track record in countries such as Syria, Libya, Ukraine, and Central African Republic. At the same time, it is also important to note that Russia and the Wagner Group are not the same thing – despite the latter having the tacit blessing of the former. Putin made it clear that the actions of private military contractors do not constitute Russian state action and that they are free to pursue any international objective as long as this is compliant with Russian law. But there is always a thin line there.
Whatever route that Mali chooses, it must still be wary that foreign interference of whatever nature is detrimental to its sovereign interests in the long run. It must be wary that allowing private groups such as Wagner blurs the respect for international law principles. The African Union must not let Africa forever remain a playing ground for European hegemonic powers – it is time to cultivate home-grown organic solutions that are contextual and do not worship foreign-based initiatives.