The French army has officially begun the process of withdrawing its troops from Burkina Faso. This latest development comes in the wake of French military failures as regards stemming the tide of surging insurgency in the Sahel region.
The former colonial power announced on 19 February 2023 that operations by the French army in Burkina Faso were officially over, putting an end to a bilateral agreement for military assistance that commenced in 2018.
On 18 February, a flag-lowering ceremony was held at a camp on the outskirts of the capital Ouagadougou to officially mark this development. The Burkinabe army said that this ceremony had officially marked "the end of the French task force's operations on Burkinabe soil".
In January 2023, France announced that it was ready to comply with the terms of withdrawing its presence and its troops from Burkina Faso. France indicated that it would leave Burkina Faso within a month after the latter country's military rulers asked the former colonizer to leave the country.
The French military made its intention to leave known after it received a notice in January that the 2018 agreement had been terminated.
In 2018, Burkina Faso and France signed a bilateral deal that saw French troops being given the permission to enter Burkina Faso in order to fight Isis and al-Qaeda linked extremists; and although France did not disclose the number of its troops at the time, it is believed that France had almost 400 troops in Burkina.
Of late, diplomatic relations between France and Burkina Faso have increasingly deteriorated in the midst of growing anti-French sentiment—it is widely asserted in the public sphere of the Burkinabe that French intervention has not brought any concrete, tangible, and helpful results.
The French departure in Burkina Faso comes in the wake of the end of the decade-long French anti-insurgency deployment across the Sahel called Operation Barkhane that led to the withdrawal of French troops from Mali.
The shift is now towards Russia—with Wagner Group, a private military contractor, being perceived as a viable alternative in fighting jihadist insurgency.
When French troops were asked to leave in January 2023, Burkina Faso's Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyelem de Tembela had declared Russia to be a “reasonable” choice of new partner in the anti-jihadist fight.
Islamists insurgents have troubled the Sahel region and neighbouring parts for almost a decade now. African countries in that region remain incapacitated to defend their territorial sovereignty and have to constantly rely on external foreign support especially from the West and Russia to counter the Islamist insurgents.
In Burkina Faso, thousands have been killed, two million have been displaced, and almost 40 percent of the country lies outside the control of the government.
AFP reported that the ECOWAS regional bloc still maintains its sanctions against Burkina Faso, as well as Mali and Guinea, three military-ruled countries in the volatile Sahel region.
The three troubled nations were suspended from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after undergoing military coups since 2020.