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France has been accused of “clandestinely exercising control” over francophone African countries since they formally obtained freedom.

The French colonial encounter in West Africa was driven by commercial interests and, perhaps to a lesser degree, a civilizing mission.

By the close of the Second World War the colonized peoples of French West Africa were making their dissatisfaction with the colonial system heard.

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As of 2021, France still retains the largest military presence in Africa of any former colonial power.

France maintains a tight stranglehold in Francophone Africa, both to serve its interests and maintain a last bastion of imperial prestige.

France is accused of forcing African countries to give preference to French interests and companies in the field of public procurement and public biding.

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It is argued that one such example of where France is said to be still exercising an unhealthy control in Africa is Mali which fell under French colonial rule in 1892 but became fully independent in 1960.

France and Mali still have a strong connection. Both are members of Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and there are over 120,000 Malians in France.

But, it has argued that current events in Mali have once again put the spotlight on the often turbulent relationship between the two countries.

After all its recent turbulence, Mali, currently led by a new interim leader, is only now just starting to get back on its feet again, albeit very slowly.

However, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the UN and the African Union – and especially France –  appear to be in no hurry to recognise Assimi Goita, the former interim Vice-President and current transitional leader of Mali, as a legitimate candidate for upcoming presidential elections despite a decision apparently to the contrary by Mali’s Constitutional Court.

The French media have often called Colonel Goita as “the boss of the junta”, and “the head of the military junta” and French President Emmanuel Macron described the May coup, which Goita led, as a “coup within a coup”.

Tensions between the two countries intensified when Mali recently summoned France’s ambassador to the country to register its “indignation” at President Macron’s recent criticism of the country’s government.

This came after President Macron suggested that Mali’s government was “not even really one” – because of the Goita-led coup in Mali in May. The war of words continued when President Macron called on Mali’s ruling military to restore state authority in large areas of the country which he said had been abandoned in the face of the armed uprising.

Colonel Goita installed a civilian-led interim government after the first coup in August last year. But he then deposed the leaders of that government this May in a second coup.

This also comes against a backdrop of violence in the Sahel, a band of arid land that borders the south edge of the Sahara Desert, that has intensified in recent years despite the presence of thousands of UN, regional and Western troops.

The current political changes in Mali have attracted much international attention.But, according to Fernando Cabrita questions of a different kind also need addressing.

Fernando Cabrita is a Portuguese lawyer, expert in international law, co-founder of the SOCIEDADE DE ADVOGADOS law firm. Fernando Cabrita has been writing for several regional, national and foreign newspapers and has a wide experience in international civil law.

He argues that these include asking what is the future of the country in terms of peace and security, what political decisions will strengthen the position of Mali in general and the position of its current interim leader in particular.

In an interview with this website, Cabrita gave his assessment on recent events in the West African country, particularly from the judicial view point.

He recalls, that in May 2021, the Malian transitional president, Bah Ndaw, and his prime minister, Moctar Ouane, were arrested by members of the armed forces, as Goita, then vice-president, suspected them of sabotaging the transitional process (allegedly under French influence).

Bah Ndaw and Moctar Ouane resigned, and the power shifted to Goita, a young Malian leader, who shares what is seen as strong anti-French sentiment that has been rising in Mali for some long time.

Cabrita says such a change in Mali’s political landscape is seen as “disagreeable” to France, the long-standing “partner” of Mali and its former colonial master.

He claims, “France has been clandestinely exercising control over francophone African countries since they formally obtained freedom”.

He cites France’s Operation Barkhane as a means for Paris to maintain “a significant military force” in the region.

In June, Paris began re-organising its forces deployed in the Sahel under Operation Barkhane, including by pulling out of its northernmost bases in Mali at Kidal, Timbuctu and Tessalit.Total numbers in the region are to be cut from 5,000 today to between 2,500 and 3,000 by 2023.

Cabrita says that now that Barkhane is being turned into a smaller mission, Paris is “desperate to solidify its influence through political means.”

Using the media, he says some Western countries, led by France, have tried to water down the political power of Colonel Goïta by portraying him an “illegitimate”, or unqualified, leader.

However, according to Cabrita, such attacks are groundless.

He says the Transitional Charter, signed in September 2020, that, says Cabrita, is often used to undermine Goita’s credentials, “cannot be recognised as a document with any legal force as it was adopted with a number of serious irregularities.”

He said, “The charter contravenes Mali’s constitution and it was not ratified through appropriate instruments. As such it is the decisions taken by the constitutional court that should take precedence above all others.”

On May 28, 2021, the Constitutional Court of Mali declared Colonel Goïta as the head of State and President of the transitional period, making him the leader of the country de jure.

Another factor that supports Goita’s legitimacy, says Cabrita, is the fact that the national community and international players recognise him (Goita) as the representative of Mali.

According to the recent opinion polls, Goita’s ratings among Mali’s public are rising upwards, with people approving of his determination to end the current violence in the country and deliver democratic elections in accordance with the agreed timetable.

Cabrita states, “Goita’s popularity among the people make him the most appropriate candidate for the position of the president of the country.”

But will Goita be eligible to take part in the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for February? Cabrita insists that he should be allowed to stand.

“Even though the Article 9 of the Charter prohibits the President of the Transitional period and the Deputy from participating in Presidential and parliamentary elections to be held during the end of the transitional period, the invalidity of this document and its internal contradictions leave all the important decisions to the Constitutional court. 

“Due to the fact that the Transitional Charter is an unconstitutional document, its provisions cannot restrict anyone’s civil rights, including Goita.”

Mali’s Constitution, which dates to 199 and continues to be applied in the country, defines the procedures, conditions and nomination of candidates for presidential elections.

Cabrita added, “Article 31 of the constitution states that each candidate for the post of President of the Republic must be a Malian citizen by origin and also be granted all his or hers civil and political rights. So, on the basis of this (that is, the constitution), Goïta has the right to stand as a candidate for the presidential elections in Mali.

“If he is allowed to stand for President it will mark the start of a new chapter for all francophone African countries, not just Mali.”

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