French President Emmanuel Macron officially announced on Wednesday the end of the Barkhane anti-jihadist operation in the Sahel, less than three months after the withdrawal of French soldiers from Mali, the Elysée Palace said on Tuesday. This announcement will not impact the French military presence in the region, as some 3,000 French troops are still deployed in Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

According to the Elysée, the principle is “to reduce the exposure and visibility of our military forces in Africa, to focus on cooperation and support, mainly in terms of equipment, training, intelligence, and operational partnership when the countries wish it. “Our soldiers remain covered, protected, supported, administered in conditions that are satisfactory” but the official announcement is ‘necessary locally’”, the Elysée added. “In the field of perceptions, Barkhane continues to occupy a very important presence on social networks. It is necessary to put a clear end to it in order to switch to another logic”, it was concluded.

It has been said that while Britain gave its African colonies a sort of ‘flag independence,’ France has been more hands-on in the continent. To illustrate, Guinea leader Sekou Toure’s decision to declare independence in October 1958 soured relations with France, which worsened when the latter imposed economic punishment on the former for opting out of the French commonwealth; an exception to the rule for newly-minted Francophone countries which Algeria also broke.

Back to the present, while Barkhane was being wound down, the French, in the most significant indication that it was not ready to exit the region without a fight, spawned Operation Takuba, a multinational counterterrorism group to legitimise its counterterrorism operations in the Sahel. What was not said in the Elysée’s communique is that French forces are being forced out of the Sahel, kicking and screaming.

The first announcement to wind down Operation Barkhane – the successor of the 2013 Operation Serval – in July 2021 coincided with yet another military coup in Mali, a country whose northern region is a contested zone between government forces, Tuareg rebels and Islamist groups. The pro-Russian military government that has been in office since 2021 has technically sought to end all forms of French neo-colonialism.

In the grand scheme of things, the exit of French forces in Mali will not change much. A big reason for the anti-French sentiments in Mali and other Sahelian states is that the French military presence has not done enough to turn the tide against Islamists. Attacks by armed groups, especially the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, have continued unabated in Mali and Burkina Faso. Niger is suffering from attacks on its military by the ISGS and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

This has opened up the space for other geopolitical competitors, but Russia and its shadow mercenary Wagner Group who are expected to fill the void, will not do much. This is because the Wagner Group is not in Mali to secure the country in the first place. Its primary interests are regime and resource security. As a result, in this geopolitical rivalry between East and West, the current Malian regime is the biggest winner. Still, as such wins continue to fail to translate to improvement in the lives of ordinary Malians, the discontent that leads to political instability will continue to fester. At least Paris has checked out of that mess, for now.