French President François Hollande has reaffirmed his commitment to peace in Mali in an address to more than 30 African leaders gathered at the 27th Africa-France Summit in Bamako on Saturday, 14 January.
The annual conference, which took place in the Malian capital this year, discussed cross-border jihad, governance challenges and Africa’s role in the European migrant crisis.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was quick to praise Hollande’s commitment. “Of all the French heads of state, François Hollande is the one whose dealings with Africa have been the most sincere and the most loyal,” he said.
France had launched a military operation in January 2013 to halt an offensive by al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups that had taken over much of northern Mali and threatened to sweep through the capital.
France will always remain at Mali’s side until the peace process is completed, until the Malian state can have its authority respected throughout Malian territory,” Hollande assured.
Hollande went on to hail the fact that “terrorists no longer control any [Malian] territory, democracy has returned and elections have taken place”. But Mali nevertheless remains one of the world’s most fragile states.
In a bid to help crush the jihadist threat, France has trained more than 20,000 African soldiers every year since 2013, according to a French diplomatic source.
By 2020, the number of French-trained troops is expected to reach 25,000 a year.
The training aims to minimise the need for future military interventions in African conflicts, such as those launched in Mali and the Central African Republic in 2013.
However, the situation in key nations such as Mali remains far from stable, where France’s continued military presence is not welcomed by all.
Power succession crises
As the international community seeks an end to Gambia’s political crisis, President-elect Adama Barrow met with world leaders at the summit.
President Yahya Jammeh is refusing to cede power after disputing the result of a 1 December election that secured a victory for Barrow.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-nation regional bloc, has repeatedly called on Jammeh to respect the result of the vote and step down after 22 years in power.
Jammeh has made it clear he will not stand aside until the country’s Supreme Court rules on his legal challenge, which seeks to annul the result of last month’s polls, which he had initially conceded.
Many of the nations attending the gathering were once colonies of France, which in recent years has boosted its military involvement on the continent.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame, who have a particularly tense relationship with Paris, were also present at the talks.
Discussions also focused on the repeated flouting of African constitutions in recent years. Kagame has altered the constitution to remove term limits, to the dismay of democracy advocates on the continent. Another concern for the summit is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down has sparked a political crisis.
Ken Kamara with agency reports