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Africa

French PM Manuel Valls visits jihadi-hit Mali and Burkina Faso

media French PM Manuel Valls and his Malian counterpart Modibo Keïta. AFP

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is in Mali, meeting French troops stationed in Gao, in the north. Accompanied by Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Valls participated in a military ceremony during which he described their fight against Islamist violence in Mali as a "battle against barbarity".
 

Even though a peace agreement was signed between the government and Tuareg insurgents, foreign troops remain in the country.

Dossier: War in Mali

Although the Islamists were largely ousted by the French-led military operation in January 2013, armed jihadists still pose a threat, especially in the north of the country, and the Malian military is not judged capable of handling the threat on its own.

The management of the transition to peace has been criticised by the international community.

"I think they're looking at a very structural problem here. This is, I wouldn't say, ungoverned space, northern Mali, but it is poorly governed, and I think the central government has very little influence in control over what happens there," Mark Singleton, the director of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague, told RFI.

"And we've seen that they themselves are often targets of military actions carried out by both terrorist organisations and, in the past, others. So it looks like this foreign presence, the French but also others ... it's quite likely that a foreign presence will be required for many years still because, security reform is needed, it's long overdue, and it takes years to mature and training and equipping is just one element of it."

"Liberty must be defended, France is fully engaged in this battle," was Valls's message on a three-day visit to Mali and Burkina Faso and international backup is needed for that task.

Despite the peace agreement, jihadist violence is intensifying on the ground.

"Terrorism is rooted in local conditions and in the case of Mali there's a lot of longstanding unrest within the country, between north and south, between the populations ..." said Singleton.

"We saw the Tuareg uprisings in 2012, and of course all of this is rooted in colonial times but has been perpetuated... And one of the big big problems inside Mali, is corruption. Corruption within the defence establishment, but we could argue throughout government altogether. So there's more than the eye sees, it's not just terrorism per se, it's terrorism thriving on local grievances and some of the terrorist organisations active in Mali and now also in {neighbouring] Burkina [Faso], were rooted in other issues, not necessarily terrorism-related."

France takes a particular interest in Mali for economic reasons.

So ensuring partnerships is a key part of Valls's visit.

France has a long history of dealing with west Africa and it remains a very important ground for the French government.

"We are the friend of the good days but also the friend of the bad days. And when things are not going very well, we remain in place," Etienne Giros, the executive chairman of the French Council for Investors in Africa, told RFI.

"For example, when there was the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, French companies remained in the country, they didn't leave. So we are still there but of course we are very cautious when it comes to security and safety for our staff. We are also ready to operate in those countries with the help and the subsidies which will be given, an amount of three billion euros, so we are ready to operate those investments."

Valls spoke to the French community in Mali and reminded them that French companies had earned three times more in 2015 than the previous year, with markets worth 500 million euros.

France's future is in Africa, he added.

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