France is backing its ambassador in Burkina Faso despite a request by authorities there to replace him amid growing anti-French sentiment.
“I would like to express my support and our support for our ambassador and for all the embassy staff, who are doing a remarkable job in conditions which, as you know, are difficult,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told LCI TV on Thursday, adding that the letter had requested a change of envoy.
In December, Ouagadougou had sent a letter requesting the departure of France’s ambassador Luc Hallade, a move the French government described as “not standard practice”.
Relations between France and Burkina Faso, a former French colony in West Africa, have deteriorated after prolonged insecurity caused by armed groups led to political instability and military coups in January and September 2022.
Angry protesters targeted the French embassy, cultural centre, and military base in Burkina Faso on the day of the second coup and on November 18. Demonstrators demanded Paris’s exit and called on the interim military authorities to ask Russia for help fighting the rebels.
Still, France retains some 400-strong special forces based in Burkina Faso. Last year, it withdrew troops from neighboring Mali after nine years with no success against the insecurity as the military government there turned to the private Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group.
French diplomats have said Burkina Faso has forged relations with Wagner while neighboring Ghana’s president alleged the same thing in December.
“There was a coup [in Mali] and there is an organized and methodical anti-French discourse going on,” Colonna said. “Potentially, yes, one can imagine a link in this anti-French campaign and Wagner.”
An official at France’s defense ministry told Reuters news agency there was no decision yet on whether to pull out its special forces from Burkina Faso, but there would be a review of French military operations in Africa later this year.
Wagner has accused Western intelligence services and United Nations peacekeeping missions of committing some of the offenses the group has been accused of in Africa, including orchestrating coups.