The Transitional Prime Minister of Mali Choguel Kokalla Maïga gave recently an interview to the Turkish news agency Anadolu Ajansı.
Below we present the interview as published by Anadolu Ajansı, subheadings were set by United World International.
Interviewed by the Anadolu Agency (AA), the Transitional Prime Minister of Mali Choguel Kokalla Maïga answered a series of questions on the security and political situation in his country, in particular on the factors which led to the coup d’état of 18 August 2020, as well as on the relations maintained by his government with several international actors, in particular Turkey.
The Malian Prime Minister accused France of playing a harmful role in the development of the security and economic situation in Mali, also attributing responsibility to the Economic Community of West African States West (ECOWAS). Choguel Maïga also spoke about the developments that have led to enhanced collaboration between Mali and Russia.
In your statements on ECOWAS sanctions, you mentioned “geopolitical considerations”. Can you explain this dimension further? How have “geopolitical considerations” motivated the heavy sanctions against Mali?
For months, in all the international financial institutions, France and its representatives have opposed the inclusion of any development project concerning Mali on the agenda. For months! We discovered that each time an ECOWAS summit was announced; we don’t know by what magic the French authorities declared (because it looks like they are aware of the situation) that ECOWAS will hold a summit in such a date, that there will be sanctions. So that led us to say that certainly France is more informed of the conclusions than the ECOWAS Heads of State.
France wants an obeying Malian Head of State
For example the last summit: the fact that it will be held on January 9, 2022 and that there will be sanctions was announced by the French authorities a month before. That sanctions will follow the summit was announced a month before and the nature of these sanctions clearly shows us, and we said it in our press release, that these sanctions certainly have an objective: it is to destabilize the government, to overthrow it in order to have at the Head of the State a docile government which would obey the instructions of the French authorities.
France violates the military agreements
We have said it clearly, we are not hiding it: they oppose everything in order to achieve the economic and financial suffocation of the country. The fact that they systematically announce the dates of the summits, and that they describe the sanctions which the summits will decide.. And finally, in the case of military cooperation, the French authorities violate the military agreements that bind us. The proof is that, in the North, there were French military bases, which were set up following the defense agreement between France and Mali. And one fine day the French state, the French authorities decided that they would leave these military bases without notifying us.
From that moment, we also started a process of proofreading the agreement because anyway, if a party can violate it when they want, it is better that we sit down together to proofread it: what does not suit one of the parties, we remove it and find common ground. And so for us, there is no doubt: the decisions taken against our country were inspired by an agenda outside the interests of the Malian people, the interests of Africa.
Malian leaders are drawing lessons from what happened in the world in the last 20 years
You know, there ‘s a fable that’s been spread around the world. And here too, we were astonished that when, in France itself and in Europe, there was talk of rumors, press articles, the ECOWAS relied on these rumors to take resolutions.
We are learning from what happened in Afghanistan
We do not understand that summits of heads of state are inspired by rumors and press articles from European countries to take resolutions against Mali. What is it? I want to be clear on this. You know, in Mali, the current leaders are analyzing the situation in the world, looking at what has happened in the world in terms of geopolitics and defense issues over the past 20 or 30 years and drawing lessons because those who do not know how to learn the lessons of history, will learn it at their expense.
What is your assessment of the current security situation in Mali and its evolution?
I’m going to give you some illustrations before explaining where we are. We have observed that for 20 years, under the guise of the fight against terrorism, the so-called international community (because when we talk about the international community, it is about a few countries that get along and speak on behalf of all the world) has intervened in Afghanistan for 20 years. At the end of those 20 years, one day, they decided to leave. And we saw the Afghans, with the energy of despair, were clinging to planes. Our people are learning from this.
Will those who are here today leave us on one day out of sudden? And it is all the more true that you have a paradox in Mali. We have the Malian Armed Forces, you have the French operation Barkhane, you have the United Nations operation, the Minusma [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali], you have the European operations (like EUTM EUCAP), you have the G5 Sahel, you have Takuba…
Despite all these united forces, from year to year, the security situation is deteriorating. It ‘s like a patient. The patient is here. The disease was diagnosed and a prescription and medication were prescribed. The patient is told that in two months he will recover. After 8 years, the disease, which had initially had affected one part of his body, has now covered 80% of his body. If he bears any responsibility, this patient must ask himself. Either the doctors are bad, the diagnosis was wrong, or the drugs are bad. In any case, he must ask himself. This is what the government did. We said to ourselves that with residual insecurity in 2013, we are at 80% of the territory invaded by terrorists, while there are all these forces. Shouldn’t we look for another solution? Shouldn’t you change doctors? Changing treatments and diagnoses, or both or all three at the same time?
Deng Xiaoping’s wisdom
You know, there is a famous Chinese politician, a very wise person, Deng Xiaoping, who said in the 1970s, when the Cultural Revolution was in full swing in this country: let the cats be, gray or black, as long as they catch the mouse. To say that a political system is only valid insofar as it meets the needs of citizens. It cost him what it cost in his time, but history proved him right and he came back to power and he was the one who founded modern China.
This is an example that I give so that people understand how we reason at the head of the state today.
We said to ourselves, from what we saw in Afghanistan, what we saw in Libya, where certain countries obtained from the Security Council a resolution, which allowed them to protect Benghazi from the aerial bombardments coming from Muammar Gaddafi, overstepped that resolution to go assassinate the president and sow disorder.
France promised separatists the division of Mali
And the situation in Mali is 80% the result of this disorder. So you create chaos. You arm people, you tell them to go and divide Mali. Because separatists said it officially and French officials assumed it silently that France was behind the separatist movements of 2011, which came from Libya with arms and baggage. The leaders of those movements said that it was France that promised them to invade northern Mali and divide it and create an independent state. We’re not the ones saying that. It is the leaders of this movement who say so and who are supported by French political leaders.
We draw conclusions from this. In 2013, when the Malian government appealed to France to help drive out the terrorists, there was the so-called Operation Serval, which took place at the request of the interim government. They say today that the government is not legitimate, but the government that appealed to France in 2013 was a government resulting from a coup d’état. But let’s move on.
What was asked? The Malian government sent a letter to the French government, of which there is no copy in the archives of Mali, neither to in the Defense or to Foreign Affairs Ministries. The letter is in France, on the site of the French Senate, where we recently discovered it.
In that letter, France had been asked for air support and intelligence. There were no plans to deploy French soldiers on Malian territory. The Malian army didn’t want it. France respected this until Kidal. Arrived in Kidal, it blocked the way of the Malian Army, creating an enclave, where the terrorists had during years the freedom to reorganize. We learn from this.
France was supposed to come and help us fight the terrorists. But it created the conditions for the sanctuary of terrorism and the partition of Mali and the violations of United Nations resolutions that she had come to defend. Because the French former President François Hollande had clearly stated the objectives of Operation Serval: to destroy terrorism, restore State authority throughout the territory and apply United Nations resolutions.
After 9 years, terrorism has invaded 80% of the country
After nine years, we find that terrorism, which was residual in the north, has invaded 80% of the territory. The integrity of the authority of the State as of today has not been restored on the entire national territory. The United Nations resolutions change every year, they are written by France. So much that this year, our government objected.
It is in the room of the Security Council that our ambassador discovered a draft resolution, which asked to increase the manpower of the Minusma mission by more than 2000 men. Our ambassador stated that our government was not informed. We cannot, as we say in Africa, ‘shave the heads of Malians in the absence of Malians’. We cannot decide to send a military contingent to our territory without knowing its origins, missions, numbers, nationalities and targeted objectives. So we opposed it. And we learned from this too. We have what is called the “Takuba Force”, which was installed in a somewhat cavalier way in 2019. It was after having announced it that we summoned the African heads of state to go and sign their agreement in Pau in France [G5 Sahel Summit of January 13, 2019].
This operation has been there for almost two years. But zero effect: nothing to its credit in the fight against terrorism. But that ‘s not the most serious thing. The most problematic point was that all the countries, which must send soldiers within the framework of the Takuba operation, must have a written agreement with the Malian State. This is written in the agreement. The Malian government has sent an invitation to a number of countries. But when a country decides to come to Mali, it makes a written agreement, which determines the conditions of engagement of the soldiers on our territory, it is written black on white.
Europeans came without agreement
We do not understand why certain European countries decide to come without having an agreement with Mali. This is what happened between the Danish government and us. I explained to citizens so that the people would understand that, what happened there when you want to go to Europe today. You are a Turk, you want to go to Germany; you need an invitation. But when you have the invitation, that’s not enough, you need a visa. That ‘s what happened between us. Our government has invited European states, but each state must have a specific agreement – a visa – to be on our territory. And what we haven’t understood is that the Danish government comes to our territory without a visa, without authorization. We told them that we do not agree. And then, especially since these last moments, we feel a growing hostility of France against our government. I have exposed to you all the blockades they are making to suffocate our government economically.
French violations of Malian air space
We see all the games that have took place in the last nine years. We see recently, when they pushed ECOWAS to take unfair and illegal and illegitimate measures against the Malian state, illegitimate because these measures do not exist in any text. Total embargo. While they are doing the embargo, a French military plane enters our territory from an ECOWAS country, while they say they are closing the borders. When they cross our territory and realize that we have sufficient means to detect their presence, they turn off the transponders so as not to be identified. Later, they turn off their radio so as not to be in contact with the control tower. They land on part of our territory. They deposit who knows what and they return to this ECOWAS country.
France uses UN planes to spy on military bases
The next day, Minusma planes fly over Malian military bases for hours, even though this is not within Minusma’s mandate and when our army asks questions, they say that France has asked to carry the flights out. We said that it is not the mission of Minusma to spy on military bases and therefore we clearly asked not to fly over our territory without authorization.
We asked the Danish government to withdraw
We have asked the Danish government to withdraw its forces until they comply with the agreements between us. When we did that, you heard the French authorities, which want to manage Mali by proxy, saying these were irresponsible acts. They poured out insults. The Malian government has supremely felt that they have gone too far. And I recalled in one of my last interviews that Mali has no problem with the European Union. But what we simply want the European Union to understand: France must not lead the countries of the European Union into a hidden agenda, which is not representing to the European Union.
I also recalled that the Western countries in 1885, precisely, on February 28, 1885, at the Berlin conference, had divided Africa into zones of influence. We reminded that Mali has been independent since 1960. So there is no zone of influence. France cannot manage Mali’s relations with the EU by proxy.
So if a country wants to have relations with Mali, it deals as a partner. That ‘s all we asked for. Because of this, they poured out abuse when talking about the legitimacy of the government. I wanted to tell them, when the government that they called legitimate, was shooting at mosques to kill citizens by the dozens, we didn’t hear France say a word. And that incident is undisputed because United Nations reports have documented it. Recently, in 2021, French aviation bombed Malians who were celebrating a wedding. The UN report confirmed that the victims were civilians who were in a wedding. France said they were terrorists, but who’s telling the truth? So all these factors led us to say: we have to be careful. We can no longer authorize foreign forces to be on our territory with conditions not defined in advance.
We can no longer leave leeway that can lead States to step out of the commitments made with our State to go and accomplish an agenda that has nothing to do with what they announced at the national level, to their public opinion and to the international community. Well, it sparked what you know, and we were very clear, we have to respect our people, we have to respect their sovereignty. We are not asking for anything else.
Mali does not hide its intentions to cooperate more with Russia, which provoked the fury of France. Why this opening to Russia and why now?
Our country and our government is ready to collaborate with all those who want to help restore security. What we cannot negotiate, what we cannot haggle is the sovereignty of our country, its independence of decisions, including in matters of defense, and the dignity of our people. This entire hubbub came about because, as I told you, we have all these doctors, all these armed forces, more than 50,000 men on the ground. Entire villages were exterminated. When we ask for the intervention of foreign forces, they tell us ‘no’, the Minusma did not come to wage war. But right now, what’s going on? We want to buy planes from European countries, but we are blocked. We want to buy from the United States, but we are blocked. So the solution is to go to those who are not going to block us.
The others blocked us, so we bought weapons from Russia
It ‘s as simple as that. We went and we concluded military cooperation agreements with Russia. We bought weapons from Russia and not only from Russia. We are working with other partners, but since there is a geopolitical, a geostrategic struggle between Russia and Western countries, we are trying not to sacrifice Mali on the altar of this battle, which is not ours. Otherwise, Mali is working with other partners to equip its army on all fronts. So today, the results of this cooperation are tangible. In less than a month, our Army has achieved spectacular results. The number of terrorists eliminated in less than a month is greater than what we have achieved in the past 30 years.
Now, concerning the whole debate around Wagner and the Russians: In any case, we know where we are stepping. The security of Malians is our government’s priority. For the rest, propaganda, intoxication, demonization… As I say today, the French authorities are exercising real political, media and diplomatic terrorism against our government with the aim of overthrowing it. What we have said to the ECOWAS countries is: We do not understand that, while we are achieving significant results in the fight against terrorism, we are being stabbed in the back. And we also warned to be careful, because the destabilization of the Malian government and therefore the Malian state can lead to unexpected consequences. That’s what I can say about it.
We want our sovereignty to be respected
To sum up, we want to defend Malian citizens and their property. We want our sovereignty to be respected, the dignity of our people and our freedom to choose our partners, including in matters of defense and security – be them the Russians or any other partner that satisfies us.
Do you have a message for the Malian people as well as a message for the Turkish people?
I would first like to tell the Turkish people and the Turkish government that for Mali, Turkey is one of the biggest Muslim countries. It’s very important for us.
What we are taught from an early age is that Muslims are brothers. We are a secular state; we are a state where all religions are practiced. The state is equidistant from all religions, but it must be recognized that 95 to 98% of our population is Muslim; this is a factor we must take into account without minimizing the other religions. We have the same relations with Christians, Protestants, animists, etc.
We reach out our hand to the Turkish government and people
The Turkish people are a friendly people and in recent years, the economic and other relations with Turkey have developed dramatically. And our government wants to give new and strong impetus to these relations in all areas, without exception. I think everyone will understand what I mean. Especially in the field of security. Defending the security of people and property in Mali. And I want to tell the Turkish people that the Malian people reach their hand out to the Turkish government.
We all know the about the efforts made in the recent years. We analyze the geopolitical situation and we observe the Turkish government’s economic and diplomatic offensive to occupy its rightful place in Africa.
Africa is the battleground of the powers on the economic level. It is not an armed battle. Maybe some think of the battle of arms, but we think of an economic, social and cultural battle.
So we welcome Turkey with open arms. And we know that our Turkish Muslim brothers are in the same mood as us.
And regarding your message to the Malian people, what do you say to them?
Concerning the Malians, we say repeatedly: our population must keep hope. For the first time in decades, we have at the head of the State patriots who have no other objective than to restore the dignity and sovereignty of our people. Malians have understood this message and that is why when ECOWAS took these sanctions that we described as illegal and illegitimate, sponsored by foreign powers.
When our president, instead of being defeated by these sanctions, organized the response by calling on the people to show their support, between January 10 and January 14, in four days, the government and the population spontaneously mobilized over the whole territory. Nearly 4 million citizens mobilized to spontaneously demonstrate their support for the government. For more than 30 years that we make elections with electoral campaigns, with the money invested in them, no president has been able to mobilize more than 2 million voters. There are 3.7 to 4 million citizens who have mobilized to show their support for the government, spontaneously.
I believe that the effect sought by ECOWAS and those who were behind these sanctions, which was to isolate, to destabilize the government was not achieved. Their decisions had the opposite effect because the people, as a single man, stood up to say ‘no’, to say that this government is working in the direction they support. Because they see the results in terms of security, in economic and financial matters, in terms of social cohesion, in terms of diplomacy, in terms of worldview, a good analysis of the geopolitical situations in the world in such a way that the Malian State, the Malian people, can occupy the place that should be theirs in the concert of African nations and the world. So Malians must keep hope and trust their government.
Patriots at the head of the Malian state
Our friends, including Turkey, must know that today at the head of the Malian State, there are patriots who are ready to cooperate with all the countries which can help it to assume its missions which are those restore the dignity of Malians.
The President of the Transition has experienced all stabbings against our army personally
The President of the Transition, Colonel Assimi Goïta, today at the head of the State, is an officer, young, it’s true, but as I told you, he passed 18 out of his 38 years in the theater of military operations. He is the head of the special counter-terrorist forces. And so all the betrayals, all the low blows, all the stabbings that our army has suffered over the past nine years, he has experienced them with his colleagues personally. And today, the Malian people trust him and trust the government he leads.
We ask our friends from Turkey, whom we thank moreover for their attention (the fact of giving us the floor shows that you want to listen to a different story from that which is widespread in Europe), we also thank them for their attention and to say that we are counting on them too, as a Muslim country, a brother country and a partner country. The partnership between our two countries must be win-win because that is what lasts and today. Several Turkish companies, I think, have their place in Mali.
We ourselves have considered making a working trip to Turkey with a number of ministers, to explore the areas of cooperation that we can identify so that Turkey, like all the major emerging powers, occupies the place that should be his in the Republic of Mali, with other friends of our country.