Stability in Mali: re-emergence of old French counterinsurgency models?

By Roel Vandervelde  (

Paper c0-published with the WAPSN website at

In the last four years French forces have conducted major military operations in two African states. In 2013, the French government promised to ‘clean up the area’ in Central African Republic as well as return ‘stability’ to Mali through the ‘reconquest’ of Northern Mali under operation Serval after disgruntled military men had ousted the elected Mali president and lost the North to a Tuareg rebellion.[1]  Between January and April 2013 French air and land forces acted unilaterally and decisively to roll back southbound offensives of an alliance of multifarious Tuareg clans, Islamic tribes and groups like Ansar Dine, and outsiders like Al-Qaeda, which had sprung up the year before.[2] President Hollande quickly announced French deference to the Mali authorities in February 2013, “The changeover is soon enough, now it’s the Malians who have the responsibility to assure the transition and above all the stability of their country.”[3] France deftly handed operational responsibility to the MINUSMA UN mission in July 2013. Eerily reminiscent of the flight-deck announcement of US president George W. Bush in Iraq in 2003, the following January the French President announced troop reductions, now that the hard work had been done.[4] By August 2014, twelve months after President Hollande had announced an ‘end to major operations’ in Mali, he had had to commit to a much larger and longer follow-up operation, ‘Barkhane’.[5] Despite the hard-won peace accord in June 2015 between the government in Bamako and the self-proclaimed state of Azawad in the North, the key issues of autonomy and prosperity for Northern Mali remain unresolved.[6] One year on, exacerbated divisions and deficiencies, and tribal violence continue to impede implementation of the accord, with the Keita government seemingly not able or unwilling to do the necessary.[7] One observer noted the loss of national cohesion as a major obstacle to peace, which is still far from certain.[8] Once more, a western intervention in an imploding state raises questions about the basis for intervention and the framework for securing national and humanitarian interests.

Absence of politics

Comparisons between Hollande’s rhetoric and events suggest that the international and French operational approaches to stabilisation contain inherent flaws, which all relate to what analysts have called an ‘absence of politics’.[9] Although the root problems of local insurgency are political, developing enduring political cooperation among constituents has proven difficult. The international response to the familiar marriage of terrorism and local militants that we see in Mali has been predominantly a military one. But even at the level of military strategy there have been issues.

Firstly, the French effort in Mali was defined by its leaders as a struggle over territory rather than ideas. Hollande boasted that ‘Serval’ had denied the terrorists ‘even the last piece of Mali’.[10] His Defence minister expected ‘Barkhane’ to close the regional ‘highway between Libya and the Atlantic to jihadists.’[11] They have encouraged the Mali government in Bamako to reassert administrative and military control. As a result, the protracted tensions between various northern tribes and the southern centres of power are oversimplified, tensions which find their origins in colonial and spatial legacies, racialized ethnic differences, and economic and political deficits.[12] The identified culprit of destabilisation, Islamic terrorism, or international jihadism, is in fact an international terrorist diaspora that preys on local conflicts. So far military operations have only dispersed jihadi groups across porous borders.[13]

Secondly, the concurrent framing of legitimate force against violent subversion projects a problematic image of neutrality, both to the government and intervening actors on its behalf. The intervenor assists the state under threat; his efforts to restore democratic rule impart that quality on the leadership he supports. And so the French military response has had the double effect of legitimising internationally both its own intervention and the new Mali government.[14] The image of a state under siege from alien invaders is convenient but skewed.[15] As Susanna Wing notes: ‘Throughout the region where we have seen religious extremism, sedentary and nomadic populations often come in conflict and weak states have been ineffective in addressing political, economic and social crises.’[16] Equally it is wrong to take the neutrality of interventions for granted. When negotiating with the separatist nationalist movement MNLA in June 2013, French forces had received popular criticism for their decision to allow the northern opposition to enter the town of Kidal during elections.[17]  Likewise, Mali’s neighbouring states gain political capital from their participation in UN approved regional agents of ECOWAS, MINUSMA, allowing them to ignore domestic socio-economic problems.[18]

Following on from the previous point, the French presence may actually perpetuate the terrorism it defines.[19] Following speedy democratic elections in Mali and regionalisation of military security under operation ‘Barkhane’, France has built up its military presence in the region. As the intervention force offers security on behalf of the elected government of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, opposition is regarded as suspect and potentially radical. Given the presence of Al-Qaeda, the label ‘Islamic extremism’ excludes from negotiation a host of other violent actors that choose or refuse this label.[20] UN resolution 2085 on the intervention in Mali identified ‘the presence of armed groups, including separatist movements, terrorist and criminal networks’[21], but the many nomadic Tuareg tribes that display similar behaviour traditionally defy easy qualification.[22] Radicalisation of disaffected youths relates to domestic ‘injustices and marginalisation’, and indirectly to regional inequalities, even ecological disadvantages caused by climate change. Such problems are not helped by the slow pace at which the promised international grants materialise.[23]  These factors have left the tolerant tradition of Islam in West Africa open to hijack by extremist groups that have subsequently been misconstrued by security efforts.[24] Cycles of violence ensue that are hard to break, creating an endless war of attrition.

Finally, misperceptions are inherent in French and American counterinsurgency doctrines, which offer generic solutions reinforcing the above flaws of territorialisation, de-legitimisation and misdiagnosis. The American 2006 counterinsurgency manual accepts that insurgencies are all different and have different historical contexts, but it also argues that the same tactics can be modified to suit all situations.[25] The French intervention in Mali works from these same concepts of counterinsurgency and stabilisation. French scholars have argued that these concepts reflect a political project that is wrongly presumed to be ‘apolitical and neutral’ and which ‘some might call “neo-colonialism”’.[26]

Historical development of counterinsurgency doctrine

The debt of counterinsurgency doctrine to colonial methods as far back as the 19th century is well documented.[27] Its ostensibly neutral strategic and political character of has increasingly been contested.[28] The British colonial creed of applying ‘minimum force’ was long celebrated as part of a ‘British way of war’, until its recent debunking.[29] The British handling of the Malayan Emergency of 1948-1960 is still defended by counterinsurgency theorists as the outstanding example of turning a violent colonial rebellion into a peaceful independent state. The region covered by the ‘Barkhane’ operation is reminiscent of the French colonial era. Between 1957 and 1962, French colonial states among the same east-west axis between Mauritania and Chad were participating in the OCRS, a French-led regional entity distributing (mainly) Algerian gas and oil resources to promote a unified ‘French Sahara’.[30] It is certainly ironic that Algerian sponsorship is today indispensable to the continued success of French efforts in Mali.[31]

Most analyses of French counter-insurgency have studied colonial tactics of population control rather than the drivers of unrest.[32]  French colonial antecedents of population control depended less on political emancipation than on military coercion and administrative manipulation.[33] Already in 1900, French colonial military commander and later First Resident of Morocco (1912-1925) Hubert Lyautey (1854-1934), had written on the need to complement military ‘pacification’ with winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the population.[34] From his experiences in Indochina and Madagascar he advocated military occupation of the contested area with consent of the state. Military commanders would act like entrepreneurs to develop the economic, social, and cultural infrastructures within their theatres. The corollary of introducing a new social hierarchy as opposed to restoring the old one is largely forgotten.

Stripped of their colonial context Lyautey’s tactics have served as the first example to French security forces in Algeria in the 1950s and again in Afghanistan after 2001. After the Second World War, French colonial ambitions collided with anti-colonial nationalisms that skilfully mobilised the anxieties within the Cold War blocs.  Lyautey’s notion of outposts and grid surveillance were used extensively in the Algerian War (1954-62). Algerian nationalist agitation implicated the population in their fight. This prompted French veteran officers to expand pacification with psychological warfare in order to regain popular support. Still reeling from traumatic defeats by the Germans in 1940 and the Vietnamese in 1954, the French army considered Algeria the scene of a ‘Guerre Révolutionnaire’, a revolutionary war: much more insidious than colonial rebellion, and carrying a political message of communist subversion. According to military historian Peter Paret, ‘[I]n the eyes of the theorists and practitioners of Guerre Révolutionnaire, the war in Algeria became part of a greater crusade for the spiritual and national future of France’. [35] Population control and intelligence gathering at any price became obsessions for the French army, turning her against the Algerian population and the French government. After the Algerian war the doctrine of ‘Revolutionary War’ French President de Gaulle rejected as politically reprehensible, and unsuitable to his desire for a nuclear defence strategy.[36] ‘Guerre Revolutionaire’ proponents were ousted or demoted.[37] The Algerian War shows many of the problems we see in modern day counterinsurgency campaigns: captive populations, escalating and excessive violence, unchallenged ideological convictions, and tensions between distant civil and military authorities on the ground.[38]

After 1960, French “Guerre Révolutionnaire” was studied by other colonial regimes under pressure from liberation movements. Some French practitioners found alternative employment within militaries in South America.[39] Regimes in Southern Africa also externalised and essentialised the opposition, in order to structure intelligence and surveillance, and to territorialise the conflict. South Africa in Namibia, Portugal in Angola and Mozambique, and Rhodesia after UDI in 1965 were all fighting ‘revolutionary wars’[40] using French equipment, and were repeating many of the French mistakes in the process. Repressive pacification and psychological warfare allowed the white minority regimes to strengthen their hold on power – at great cost to communities. These counterinsurgencies have generally been ignored in publications on the subject.

While Americans had had prior experience suppressing rebellions in the Philippines[41], they too studied the French efforts in Algeria to benefit their efforts of keeping communism out of South Vietnam. Later, French officers like Paul Aussaresses were invited to teach cadets at US irregular warfare schools.[42] French Guerre Revolutionnaire veterans like French émigré David Galula emphasized the centrality of securing popular support over territorial gains. The American tradition of firepower overrode such subtleties. American aims of rolling back international communism in ‘a contest of legitimacy’ were not helped by rampant corruption of the South Vietnamese government.[43] In short, Americans merely amplified the French efforts of popular and military engagement, repeating French excesses. After the traumatic withdrawal from Saigon, counterinsurgency as a way of warfare for US Armed Forces was abandoned for a generation, just as it had been in France before. It would resurface as “COIN” after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Counterinsurgency doctrine as an apolitical model

The end of the Cold War brought on intractable conflicts in crumbling states, which presented themselves as a major problem in international relations. The new international order still required stability across increasingly inter-dependent regions. The European peacekeeping missions of the 1990s were not ‘anti-revolutionary’, but they faced the same dilemma of people-centric war.[44] Indeed, the stated UN objectives in Mali are no different from those in former Yugoslavia – to bring stability. In Eastern Europe and in Central and West Africa ethnic violence baffled and embarrassed international peace keeping efforts. This opened the way for UN-approved peace-enforcing operations by lead nations, such as the successful British intervention in Sierra Leone.[45] The French UN-approved but independent intervention force in Cote d’Ivoire in September 2002 drew on post-independence military agreements between the two states dating back to 1961.[46] France has since sought to disengage from its old monopoly on military assistance to Francophone African states, and build partnerships with regional actors to ‘share the costs and risks of intervention’. The recent Malian interventions show that colonial embarrassment has been replaced by a new-found French confidence and repertoire.[47] This repertoire originated from the American armed forces.

The 2003 Anglo-American attempt at ‘regime change’ in Iraq in response to the terrorist attacks in September 2001 was a watershed in international relations, both for its illegality and its destabilising effect on the Middle East. Under the banner of defending regional stability, humanitarian intervention became linked to security against with ‘anti-freedom’ religious extremism in failed states.

A violent backlash by Iraqi sectarian groups against American occupying forces had the paradoxical effect of returning French operational thinking to its own roots. General Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, re-examined French pacification in Algeria theorists.  Amongst other sources, Petraeus embraced the analysis from Galula’s two books, written in English in 1963 and 1964, integrating them into a new US field manual in 2006. Ironically, the French military could then safely copy the “new” American ‘clear-hold-build’ sequence. Behind this generic sequence is the conviction that despite their different contexts, ‘all insurgencies, even today’s highly adaptable strains, remain wars amongst the people,’[48] and can be overcome by the same tactics.[49] The endgame was made clear from the outset: ‘Victory cannot be gained until the people accept the legitimacy of the government mounting COIN and stop actively and passively supporting the insurgents’.[50] In contrast to the US and British counterinsurgency 2006 manuals, French doctrine was deliberately tactical in nature, ‘avoid[ing] dwelling on the thorniest issues …. [of] counterintelligence’, and glossing over the policy-strategy nexus.[51] The French ‘doctrines de stabilisation’ manual of 2010  moved closer to the American approach, noting that “the law of armed conflict considers terrorist actions as an illegal method of combat. This means that the Force is legally protected in its coercive actions against terrorists.” [52]  The conceptual separation between insurgency and the population followed experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq.[53] In Mali, the Barkhane operation that followed Serval constitutes the holding phase, preparing the move towards normalisation.

In the decade that followed 9/11, France and the US took an active role in stabilising missions. Sharing foxholes in Afghanistan in 2002, both armies have come to agree that counterinsurgency doctrine is the roadmap to achieve a return to stable government, defending government structure until injections of financial and socio-political capital can remove grievances. The material approach to grievances addresses political legitimacy last, because security is believed to be an objective and neutral commodity that must be introduced before political articulation can resume.

Mindful of its politicising past, the French army’s 2006 stabilisation manual advocates the conveniently distant ideas of French colonial warriors Gallieni and Lyautey on winning hearts and minds  as ‘surprisingly modern and current’.[54] By contrast, the American manual considers ‘insurgency and COIN … [as] two sides of a phenomenon that has been called revolutionary war’.[55] The tacit French embrace of Guerre Revolutionnaire is nonetheless clear, with French translations of Galula’s books appearing in 2008.

A cursory reading of the ‘old master’ Lyautey is also significant in this respect. He is praised for his systematic pacification and his advocacy of local economic development as a metastasis of stability. He ostensibly overcame colonial resistance by way of a gradual ‘oil stain’ approach, and through winning local ‘hearts and minds’. [56]  A 1996 study paints a favourable picture of Lyautey’s education under Galieni in Madagascar:


With him [Gallieni], Lyautey learned how to seize, secure, administer and develop areas previously under enemy control or threat. The principles of his doctrine concentrated on the well-being of the local population, providing them with security in their everyday life, and administering their affairs with understanding, respect and generosity. All these elements Lyautey used later.’ [57]


These concepts had little basis in reality.[58]  Lyautey’s subsequent military rule over Morocco also showed him to be a self-promoting and dismissive imperialist, characteristics which led to military defeat against the tribes, and to his own political downfall.[59] Ironically, such lessons are lost on counterinsurgency theory, whose generalisations rest on a narrow historical base, and whose assumed impact on the strategic environment takes for granted material preconditions and political commitment.[60]

COIN meets reality

As France has suffered renewed terrorist attacks from ISIS affiliates, continued military intervention in Mali retains broad support.[61] France’s republican values of universal freedom and secularism are said to be at stake and so they deserve to be defended.[62] The President’s ratings are historically low, but not over his military adventure.[63] Only the side-lines mumble about a renewal of ‘Françafrique’,[64] the hubris of state-building[65], and waging costly war on a whim with limited resources.[66] Yet all these fears are real.[67] In October 2015 a new cease-fire was agreed to among fighting tribes in the northern town of Kidal. In early 2016 administrative power sharing measures commenced, but attacks continue from internal and external parties, on each other and on the French and international units.[68]

The present military and political contexts evoke a strong sense of déja-vu. It is clear that counterinsurgency, or stabilising, operations are not neutral. Political violence is ‘not necessarily the reflection of impersonal or abstract ideological or identity-based polarization and hatred’.[69] Despite ongoing reconstruction efforts, observers say that only political agreement can lead to peace.[70] As the counterinsurgency model argues the reverse, this risks leaving the French effort without an exit strategy.[71]  Within the doctrine, dialogue with those ostensibly outside of the political community will only be considered from a position of military strength, within the political structures that were contested in the first place. The emphasis on security first risks being self-destroying; its success depends on an image of incremental governmental stability, but the focus on security delays attention to the actual drivers of contestation. In the ensuing game of legitimacy all sides can turn to violence to manipulate local discontent for their own ends, perpetuating instability. The recent mobilisation of the Peulh nomads against government militias can be read in this way.[72] Any subsequent set-back will make the Mali government less legitimate and even more dependent on the French state.

But should this have kept the French from intervening? Few Southern Malians will have objected to the French rolling back the Northern advance under operation Serval. Few in Nigeria will shed tears if Boko Haram should suffer a similar fate at the hands of the ongoing African regional effort. Change can be for the good. But to intervene is to alter the landscape irrevocably. It does seem significant that the Nigerian president Jonathan declined UN troops in 2015, unusually pointing to UN Chapter VIII which authorises intervention by regional organisations.[73] His successor Muhammadu Buhari signed a bilateral defence agreement with France last May, but vast differences of opinion remain over the international aid needed to attack ‘the causes of insurgency’.[74]

Under COIN, all parties must of necessity negotiate within frameworks and towards a vision imposed by leading international parties. This implies the institution of a basic level of trust and a cultural consensus among warring factions, but democracy will not magically appear among traumatised communities. Unless a viable modus vivendi is established and protected, fear and power struggles will often pick up again, as happened in Libya after Khadafi’s removal. Western states no longer appear willing to take the lead in such long term projects, as evidenced by the current Syrian tragedy. It seems interventionism needs to turn the page on counterinsurgency dogma. The dilemma has not really changed: become a demonstrable part of a society or leave it to its own devices. Instead of seeking out “the good guys”[75] and authorize them border control that was regained militarily, perhaps the definition of a ‘good guy’ and the anomalous Malian borders in operation need a conceptual rethink. Interventions should be about protecting people of all communities, but they invariably end up trying to save the state, or create one. This is unsurprising given the universal assumptions and state-building concepts that underlie most Western interventions.[76] As Pierre Messmer (1916-2007), colonial pacifier and French Defence Minister (1960-69) observed on the folly of Guerre Révolutionnaire, the French army always was a sucker for dogma. [77]


Externalising the security problem as international Islamic terrorism and security regionalisation have diverted attention away from the longstanding failure of Malian and neighbouring governments to fulfil their domestic promises of governance and decentralisation to minorities.[78] For their part, intervention forces tend to develop a ‘legitimacy deficit’, whether real or just based on ‘the perception that peacekeeping is a strategic tool of the West’.[79] A focus on external enemies relegates other equally significant destabilising factors, like climate security and people’s political vulnerability.[80] It is an open question whether the practice can be reversed towards security efforts that benefit from regional and international approaches, yet retain a focus on domestic causes of discontent. For example, political support in Mali and Burkina Faso tends to be based much less than elsewhere on domestic regionalism and ethnicity than on satisfaction with government.[81] The French effort in Mali has built on an urban liberal elite, which anchors and conforms to nation and state building under an international ideology of liberal peace-through-war.[82]

Counter-insurgency doctrine has lost some of its attraction,[83] yet it remains the clearest expression of a continuing tendency to delegitimise traditionally marginalised and diverse grass-roots contestation in weak states. Criticism of “COIN” aside, a genuine turn to collective African security may also force African states to ‘[move] the process beyond state-centred approaches to include, among other things, the increased participation of civil society..’.[84]

The specific nature of threats, capabilities and customs of African conflicts are often incongruous with Euro-Atlantic conceptions favouring external threats.[85] African regional organisations have been instrumental in subduing the abuses of autocratic states, which has been the main cause of conflict in Africa. States’ membership to security regions has been suggested as a way to ensure ‘maintenance of peace security in a culturally acceptable way’.[86]

The continuing resource problem of African states and African regional bodies does not square with these heightened expectations. Politics are the key factor at the international and operational levels of intervention. Except for Security Council members there are few states willing and able to contribute the financial and military resources and organisation to execute such mandates.[87] These actors will continue to weigh national interests against the benefits, cost and risks of contributing their forces to international interventions.[88] If African regional actors do intervene under the auspices of the international community, they are by no means immune to these calculations. [89]  As will be clear, the issues surrounding international security surpass the efforts by individual western states. Priorities of leading military powers, material dependencies of the UN, and intervention legacies combine to widen the gap between complex political objectives and divided military control of international stabilisation missions. And yet, matters are not helped by the seamless doctrinal blending of counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism, where ‘…dismantling terrorist enclaves is a critical component of antiterrorism and counterinsurgency.’ [90] Such a-political basis for Western intervention perpetuates the false logic that although the latter type is territorial, both are intrinsically external. This line of thinking suggests that the French commitment to a stable Mali will be a long one.

[1] Le Monde, 5 December 2013,’Centrafrique : Hollande annonce le début d’une intervention française’, « nettoyer le terrain » [accessed 14/7/16]; La Dépêche, 10 January 2013, ‘La France se lance dans la “reconquête totale” du Mali’, [accessed 14/7/16]

[2] Michael Shurkin, France’s War in Mali: Lessons for an Expeditionary Army (Santa Monica, CA.:Rand Corporation 2014), p.5;  Susanna D. Wing,’French intervention in Mali: strategic alliances, long-term regional presence?’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, (2016) 27:1, p.63, passim.

[3] Drew Hinshaw, ‘French President Speaks of Exit from Mali’, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 2, 2013 11:24 a.m. ET  [Accessed May 2015]

[4] Le Parisien, 31 May 2013, ‘Hollande: l’opération Serval au Mali est «réussie militairement’  [accessed May 2015]

Richard Reeve, ‘Five strategic failures of the French intervention in Mali’, The Broker Online, 3 March 2015, [accessed May 2015]

[5] France24 Online, 16 October 2013, ‘Fin de Serval au Mali, lancement de l’opération “Barkhane” au Sahel’, [accessed May 2015]; Le Point, 18 July 2014, [accessed May 2015]

[6] Le Monde, 15/5/2015, ‘Le Mali signe la paix, mais sans la rébellion’, [accessed May 2015]

[7] Sarah Diffalah, ‘Mali : la France se félicite de son intervention, mais l’avenir reste incertain’, Nouvel Observateur, 22 octobre 2015, [accessed 12/5/2016]

[8] France 24, Le Débat, ‘Mali : la guerre est-elle en voie de se terminer ?’, televised discussion by Vanessa Burggraf with Général Dominique TRINQUAND (Directeur des relations extérieures, Groupe Marck) and Antoine GLASER (Journalist, writer, analist of African affairs), AG: « Il faudra d’abord que les Maliens s’entendent entre eux… il faut des mediations entre Maliens pour reussir a retrouver, pour que ce pays retrouve son integrite. » [t=12:30]

[9] Stéphane Taillat,’National Traditions and International Context: French Adaptation to
Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century’, Security Challenges, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn 2010), [pp. 85-96], p.95. Also Etienne de Durand, ‘France’, in Thomas Rid and Thomas Keaney, Understanding Counterinsurgency. Doctrine, operations, and challenges (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2010), pp.11-27,  [p.23, FR doctrine purely tactical).

[10] Le Parisien, 31 May 2013, ‘ Hollande: l’opération Serval au Mali est «réussie militairement’  [accessed May 2015]

[11] France24 Online, 16 October 2013, ‘Fin de Serval au Mali, lancement de l’opération “Barkhane” au Sahel’, [accessed May 2015]

[12] Baz Lecocq, Disputed Desert : Decolonisation, Competing Nationalisms and Tuareg Rebellions in Northern Mali (Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2010), p.366-371

[13] Olivier Roy, ‘The Intervention Trap’, The New Statesman, 1 February 2013, pp.23-25.

[14] Bruno Charbonneau and Jonathan M. Sears, ‘Fighting for Liberal Peace in Mali? The Limits of International Military Intervention’, Journal of Intervention and State building, 2014, p.9

[15] Le Parisien, 31 May 2013, ‘ Hollande: l’opération Serval au Mali est «réussie militairement’  [accessed May 2015], « la menace exterieure »

[16] Susanna D. Wing, ‘French intervention in Mali’, idem, p.70.

[17] Susanna D. Wing, ‘French intervention in Mali’, idem, p.66

[18] Claire Mills, ‘In brief: International Military Forces in Mali’, Peace Operations Network, University of Montreal, [accessed 13052016] ;

[19] Susanna D. Wing, ‘French intervention in Mali’, idem, p.70.

[20] Roy Oliver, ‘The Intervention Trap’, The New Statesman, 1 feb2013.

[21], p.1

[22] Baz LeCocq, idem.

[23] Sarah Diffalah, ‘Mali : la France se félicite’, idem.

[24] Alexandre Marc, Neelam Verjee, Stephen Mogaka, The Challenge of Stability and Security in West Africa (Washington: World Bank Group Publications, 2015), p.77-78, 42-43, 41.

[25] US Field Manual 3-24 ‘Insurgencies and countering insurgencies’ Manual, US Army Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington DC, final draft, June 2006. [Accessed 20/05/2015], ch1.

[26] Stéphane Taillat, National Traditions, idem, p.96. Also Bruno Charbonneau & Tony Chafer, ‘Introduction: Peace Operations and Francophone Spaces’, International Peacekeeping, (2012) 19:3, 274-286

[27] Thomas Rid,’The Nineteenth Century Origins of Counterinsurgency Doctrine’, Journal of Strategic Studies, (2010) 33:5, pp.727-758] [p.728]

[28] For example, David H. Ucko ‘Critics gone wild: Counterinsurgency as the root of all evil’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, (2014)  25:1, pp.161-179; Douglas Porch (2014) ‘Reply to David Ucko’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 25:1, pp.180-185[p.184; Amitai Etzioni,’COIN: A study of strategic illusion’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, (2015) 26:3, 345-376, [p.363]; John A. Nagl, ‘COIN fights: A response to Etzioni’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, (2015) 26:3, pp.377-382

[29] Thomas Mockaitis, British counterinsurgency 1919-1960 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990)  p.36-37; Gavin Bulloch, ‘Military Doctrine and Counterinsurgency: A British Perspective’, Parameters, Summer 1996, pp. 4-16, Ian F. W. Beckett, Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies: Guerrillas and Their Opponents since 1750 (London: Routledge, 2001) p.45-48; cf John Newsinger,’Minimum Force, British Counter-Insurgency and the Mau Mau Rebellion’, Small Wars and Insurgencies, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1992, pp.47-57;  Huw Bennett, ‘The Mau Mau Emergency as Part of the British Army’s Post-War Counter-Insurgency Experience’, Defense & Security Analysis, (2007) 23:2, pp.143-163; David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire, (New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005), Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005); Huw Bennett, Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-Insurgency in the Kenya Emergency. Cambridge Military Histories (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013) p. xii, 307

[30] Berny Sebe, ‘A fragmented and forgotten decolonisation: the end of European empires in the Sahara and their legacy’, in Tony Chafer and Alexander Keese (eds), Francophone Africa at Fifty (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), p.208-209, Paul A. Tharp, Regional International Organizations / Structures and Functions, (New York, Saint Martins Press 1971), p.185, the Organisation Commune des Regions Sahariennes, or OCRS.

[31] Algerie Press Service, 30 June 2016, ‘Algeria: Security Council Commends Algeria’s Role in Implementation of Mali Peace Agreement’,  [accessed July 2016]

[32] For example, Major Grégoire Potiron de Boisfleury,‘The Origins Of Marshal Lyautey’s Pacification Doctrine In Morocco From 1912 To 1925’, French Army B.A., Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, France, 1996, [accessed 13052016]. See below.

[33] Etienne de Durand, ‘France’, in Thomas Rid and Thomas Keaney, Understanding Counterinsurgency. Doctrine, operations, and challenges (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2010), [pp.11-27], p.13-14

[34] Hubert Lyautey, Du rôle coloniale de l’armée, (Corbeil, Ed. Crete,1900)

[35] Peter Paret, French Revolutionary Warfare From Indochina to Algeria (London: Pall Mall Press, 1964), pp.28,29, p.18-21

[36] Pierre Messmer, Apres Tant De Batailles. Memoires (Paris, Albin Michel : 1992), p.305. Former Minister of Defence Pierre Messmer spoke of a cultural revolution.

[37] Paul et Marie-Catherine Villatoux, La République et son armee face au « peril subversif ». Guerre et action psychgologiques en France (1945-1960), (Paris : Les Indes Savantes, 2005), p.561, 568.

[38] Stéphane Taillat,’National Traditions and International Context: French Adaptation to
Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century’, Security Challenges, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn 2010), p.85-86; Jacques Fremeaux, ‘The French Experience In Algeria: Doctrine,Violence And Lessons Learnt’, Civil Wars, Vol.14, No.1 (March 2012), p.54-57.

[39] Deane-Peter Baker and Evert Jordaan (eds), South Africa and Contemporary Counterinsurgency: Roots, Practices, Prospects (Claremont, R.S.A: UCT Press, 2010), p.s90; W.S. van der Waals, Portugal’s war in Angola, 1960-1974 (Pretoria : Ashanti Publishing, 2011, 2nd edition), p.133 ; Paul et Marie-Catherine Villatoux, La République et son armee, idem, p.569; Joanna Warson, France in Rhodesia: French policy and perceptions throughout the period of decolonisation (Doctoral thesis, University of Portsmouth, 2013), p.171

[40] Magnus Malan, My Life With the SA Defence Force (Hatfield: Protea Book House, 2006) p.51-51, 49.

[41] Jason S. Ridler, ‘A lost work of El Lobo: Lieutenant-Colonel Charles T.R. Bohannan’s unpublished study of guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency in the Philippines, 1899–1955’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, (2015) 26:2, 292-312

[42] Elie Tenenbaum, ‘Pour une genealogie atlantique de la contre-insurrection. La question de l’influence francaise sur les doctrines americaines’, in Georges-Henri Bricet des Vallons (ed), Faut-il bruler la contre-insurrection? (Paris : Choiseul, 2010), p.42-46 ; Paul et Marie-Catherine Villatoux, La République et son armee face au « peril subversif ». Guerre et action psychgologiques en France (1945-1960). (Paris : Les Indes Savantes, 2005), p.569, Trinquier & Beaufre visit the USA.

[43] Stéphane Taillat,’National Traditions’, idem, p.92

[44] Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (New York: Knopf, 2007)

[45] See Patrick J. Evoe, ‘Operation Palliser: The British Military Intervention Into Sierra Leone, A Case Of A Successful Use Of Western Military Interdiction In A Sub-Sahara African Civil War’ (thesis, Texas State University, San Marcos, 2008) Great Britain intervention in Sierra Leon followed the collapse of UNAMSIL force, also the 1999 NATO military operation Allied Force to bomb the Federal Republic of Yougoslavia. [Accessed April 2012]

[46] Giulia Piccolino, ‘The dilemmas of state consent in United Nations peace operations: the case of the United Nations operation in Côte d’Ivoire’, in Marco Wyss, Thierry Tardy (Eds), Peacekeeping in Africa: The Evolving Security Architecture (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), p.232.

[47] Bruno Charbonneau & Tony Chafer, ‘Introduction’, idem, p.276-277, 279.

[48] US Field Manual 3-24, (2006), foreword

[49] UP Field Manual 3-24, (2006), p.ix

[50] UP Field Manual 3-24, (2006), p.1-3, point 1.12, lines 104-105.

[51] Etienne de Durand, ‘France’, in Thomas Rid and Thomas Keaney, Understanding Counterinsurgency. Doctrine, operations, and challenges (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2010),p.24

[52] Armee de Terre, ‘Doctrine for Counterinsurgency at the tactical level’, (Paris: Ministere de la Defence, 2010),  p.17

[53] Stéphane Taillat,’National Traditions and International Context: French Adaptation to
Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century’, Security Challenges, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn 2010), [pp. 85-96] p.95,92

[54] French Ministry of Defence, Centre de doctrine d’emploi des forces, ‘Doctrine des forces terrestres et de stabilisation’, November 2006, p.4 ‘la pensée de GALLIENI et de LYAUTEY reste étonnamment moderne et actuelle’,   [Accessed 15/5/2015 – document no longer available]

[55] US Field Manual 3-24 ‘Insurgencies and countering insurgencies’ Manual, US Army Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington DC, final draft, June 2006. [Accessed 20/05/2015]

[56] Edward Berenson, Heroes of Empire : Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press:2010), p.230 [Accessed on Ebrary June 2016]

[57]  Major Grégoire Potiron de Boisfleury,‘The Origins Of Marshal Lyautey’s Pacification Doctrine In Morocco From 1912 To 1925’, French Army B.A., Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, France, 1996, [accessed 13052016], p.253-4

[58] Douglas Porch, ‘Bugeaud, Gallieni, Lyautey: The Development of French Colonial Warfare’, in Peter Paret (Ed) Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University press, 1986; see also Njoh 2008: 584, on Lyautey’s disenfranchisement of non-whites in racially segregated cities.

[59] Pablo La Porte, ‘Lyautey l’européen : metropolitan ambitions imperial designs and French ambitions in Morocco, 1912-25’, French History, Vol. 30, No. 1 (2016) 2016; M. Gershovich, French Military Rule in Morocco: Colonialism and its Consequences (Oxford, 2000); also E. Berenson, Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa (Berkeley, 2011), 238–50 (ebrary)

[60] Amitai Etzioni,’COIN: A study of strategic illusion’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, (2015) 26:3, p.349

[61] Gregor Mathias, Les guerres africaines de François Hollande (Paris : L’Aube, 2014), p.101

[62] Claire Gaveau, ‘Attentats à Paris : pourquoi la France est une cible privilégiée des jihadistes ?’, RTL, 15 November 2015,  [accessed March 2016]

[63] Alain Jocard,‘François Hollande : les cinq raisons d’une impopularité record’, France24 Online, 6 November 2014,  [accessed June 2016]; Metronews, 3 April 2016, ‘Hollande “mort de chez mort” : cinq raisons qui prouvent que ça ne va pas s’arranger’,!Wsnzr89vKPo/  [accessed June 2016]

[64] Elisa Bellanger, ‘De « Serval » à « Barkhane » : la France renforce sa présence militaire en Afrique’, Le Monde, 19 July 2014, ‘ [accessed May 2015]

[65] Xinhuanet, 30 June 2016, ‘Le commandant de l’opération Barkhane affirme avoir diminué la “la capacité de nuisance des terroristes”’, Operation Serval to Barkhane. Note the discourse of the clear-hold-build approach.

[66] Grégoire Mathez, ‘Entretien avec… le général Vincent Desportes’,, 22 May 2016,   [Accessed June 2016]

[67] BBC online, ‘World’s most dangerous mission’, 20 November 2015,  [accessed 19/05/2016]

[68] International Crisis Group, Crisiswatch Database. Three French soldiers killed in an IED ambush on 12 April 2016; more attacks on French, Malian, and UN forces in June 2016, [accessed May 2016]

[69] Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Ontology of “Political Violence”: Action and Identity in Civil Wars, Perspective on Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p.486

[70] Liberation, 15 May 2015, ‘Reconstruction du Mali : près de la moitié des fonds promis ont été versés’, [Accessed June 2016]

[71] Shurkin, idem, p. 34, p.37.

[72] Mohamed Ag Ahmedou, ‘Mali : les violences contre les Peuls se poursuivent’, 1/7/2016, Mondafrique, [accessed July 2016]

[73] Premium Times, April 16, 2015, [18052016]; also Luk van Langenhove,’Chapter VIII of the UN Charter: What is it and Why it matters’, 26 Augustus 2014, United Nations University, [accessed July 2016]

[74] Radio France Internationale, 16 May 2016, ‘France, Nigeria to sign defence deal in anti-Boko Haram fight’,  [accessed July 2016]

[75] Fareed Zakaria,, ‘February 2016 speech’, [accessed May 2016] Between 17:00-20:00, Zakaria criticises the US approach in Syria as familiar and flawed.

[76] Séverine Autesserre, Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

[77] Pierre Messmer, Les Blancs s’en vont. Recits de decolonisation (Paris : Albin Michel, 1998), p.53, « le colonisateur le plus habile n’efface pas le sentiment national, quand il existe. », p.16, « Pour son malheur, l’armee francaise va succomber une fois de plus a la tentation du dogmatisme. »

[78] Susanna D. Wing, French intervention in Maliidem, p.59-80, p.74, p.71 on Chad.

[79], Thierry Tardy and Marco Wyss (Eds), Peacekeeping in Africa: The Evolving Security Architecture (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), p.7, and David Lanz, ‘The perils of peacekeeping as a tool of RtoP: the case of Darfur’, in Marco Wyss, Thierry Tardy (Eds), Peacekeeping in Africa: The Evolving Security Architecture (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), p.217

[80] Clionadh Raleigh, ‘Political Marginalization, Climate Change, and Conflict in African Sahel States’, International Studies Review, Vol. 12, No. 1 (March 2010), pp. 69-86 – p.80

[81] Basedau, Matthias, and Stroh Alexander. ‘How Ethnic Are African Parties Really? Evidence from Four Francophone Countries’, International Political Science Review / Revue Internationale De Science Politique, 33.1 (2012): 5-24. Web. P.20-21; Raphaël Franck and Ilia Rainer, ‘Does the Leader’s Ethnicity Matter? Ethnic Favoritism, Education, and Health in SubSaharan Africa’,
The American Political Science Review, Vol. 106, No. 2 (May 2012), pp. 294-325 [p.303]

[82] Bruno Charbonneau and Jonathan M. Sears, ‘Fighting for Liberal Peace’, idem, p.9, p.12-13, 16-17; see also his references to Nicholas van de Walle,“Foreign Aid in Dangerous Places: The Donors and Mali’s Democracy.” UNU-WIDER Working Paper 61 (July 2012). Accessed April 29, 2013, p.3; as well as Isaline Bergamaschi, 2013. “The Fall of a Donor Darling: The Role of Aid in Mali’s Crisis.”, unpublished, cited by Charbonneau (2014), p.8

[83] Majkut, Andrew, “Counterinsurgency Redux? Dutch Counterinsurgency in Uruzgan, Afghanistan 2006-2010” (2014), Government and International Relations Honors Papers, Paper 44,, p.96

[84] Nhema, Alfred, and Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe, eds, Resolution of African Conflicts : The Management of Conflict Resolution and Post-Conflict Reconstruction (Athens, OH, USA: Ohio University Press, 2008), p.20. [Accessed: ProQuest ebrary, 28 July 2016].

[85] Dace Winther, Regional Maintenance of Peace and Security Under International Law: The Distorted Mirrors (London; New York: Routledge, 2014), p.216-7

[86] Dace Winther, idem, p.235

[87] Seaman, Kate. UN-Tied Nations : The United Nations, Peacekeeping and Global Governance (Farnham, GB: Routledge, 2014), p.163 [Accessed: ProQuest ebrary, 8 August 2016]

[88] Seaman, Kate. UN-Tied Nations, idem, p.158

[89] Rodrigo Tavares, ‘The Participation of SADC and ECOWAS in Military Operations: The Weight of National Interests in Decision-Making’, African Studies Review, Vol. 54, No. 2 (SEPTEMBER 2011), pp. 145-176

[90] Mackubin Thomas Owens, ‘Sanctuary: The Geopolitics of Terrorism and Insurgency’, in Jeffrey H. Norwitz, (ed), Armed Groups : Studies in National Security, Counterterrorism, and Counterinsurgency (Pittsburgh, US: Dept. of the Navy, 2008), p.143, 141 [Accessed on ProQuest, 10 August 2016] ; cf. Michael G. Findley and Joseph K. Young, ‘Terrorism and Civil War: A Spatial and Temporal Approach to a Conceptual Problem’, Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 10, No. 2 (June 2012), p.288.


France, the UN, the EU, and the US summoned to sort out a family squabble in sub-Saharan Africa

Something like a deja-vu occurred in Gabon on September 2, 2016 when Jean Ping called a press conference at his Libreville home to declare himself the rightful president of Gabon, before official results of the presidential election held on 27 August 2016.  A few years earlier, André Mba Obame had done the same following the 2009 presidential election, hoping to receive the support of the international community. However, until his mysterious death in exile in 2015, this former adviser to Omar Bongo and government minister never recovered from the fact that despite a wealth of evidence indicating that the election had been rigged in favour of Ali Bongo (Omar Bongo’s son), France (and others such as the US) accepted the inverted election results which declared Ali Bongo winner. History is stuttering this time around as the main protagonists of the recent presidential election (Jean Ping and Ali Bongo) are maneuvering exactly like their political godfather, Omar Bongo, had taught them.

Omar Bongo singlehandedly ruled the small but oil-rich central African nation of Gabon for 42 years until his death in 2009. Just a few months before his death though, the frail and ill-stricken dictator was to pull a hitherto rarely seen feat of African politics by requesting – and obtaining – the sacking of a French government minister. The culprit, state minister of cooperation Jean-Marie Bockel, had angered the aging Gabonese president with his literal interpretation of Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential pledge to overhaul France’s ties with the African continent. In fact, Bockel had enthusiastically proclaimed in the media that he was ready to bury “Françafrique”[1] — referring to the old-style dubious relationship with leaders of former French colonies in Africa.  Nicolas Sarkozy quickly complied with Bongo’s request to get rid of Bockel, and even sent the replacement minister Alain Joyandet to Libreville to apologise for the sacked minister’s impertinence.

Just as this was not the first time (nor the last time for that matter) that a French leader has declared Françafrique as dead, this was not the first time Bongo had successfully attempted to influence national politics in his country’s former colonial capital – Jean Pierre Cot was also once put aside by François Mitterrand at Bongo’s demand – the Bockel episode marked a major shift in the unidirectional workings of Françafrique. Where the alleged “envelopes of cash and suitcases of diamonds secretly transferred between the political, business and military elites on both sides of the Mediterranean”[2] served primarily as token contribution for a “pay to play” scheme, belittling African leaders of French former colonies who desired to stay in power in aeternum, Omar Bongo was tapping into an emerging pattern of proclaimed France’s foreign policy being altered to satisfy African dictators. Having made sure that most French politicians owed him something or pampered him lest he break some secrets[3], he was now able to turn the tables holding the upper hand in the new political game.

Bongo’s death did nothing to alter the momentum of this new trend. If anything, his sons are proving themselves able to use not just France, but other superpowers in their game. Bongo’s political heritage was in fact divided up between two camps of former collaborators:  those who manoeuvred successfully to keep hold of the state apparatus on the one hand; and the dissatisfied who retreated into so-called political opposition on the other hand. It therefore appears very imperative to disabuse some people of the notion that Ping’s hypothetical election as President of Gabon would “put an end to 50 years of the Bongo dynasty”.  All major politicians in Gabon, regardless of their camp, have worked with the late dictator to build the system they pretend to be fighting today. One senior adviser to Jean Ping confessed that their alternative political programme was to “share the cake”[4] amongst members of the opposition coalition. Not surprising for members of the same political family, who have been bred in the caricature of one the most scandalous African neopatrimonialistic regimes. They are not just related through ideology; blood ties are what makes the current post electoral situation in Gabon ludicrous, especially for international observers who are quick to spout their grand rhetoric about democracy, transparency, change and progress for the Gabonese people.

Apart from the web of direct blood ties amongst all major political players in Gabon, belonging to one camp or the other is of such a transience that external observers are often at a loss to keep tab of who’s who in Gabonese politics.  This all stems from late Bongo’s strategy to “seduce rather than reduce” political dissidents.  Oil money was used to heavily corrupt every significant dissident, in addition to government positions. To seal things off, Bongo would deploy his own version of the aged-old bonds of kinship to restrain aggression. For example, Jean Ping who declared himself winner of the presidential election against Ali Bongo, was encouraged by late Bongo to marry and bear children with Pascaline Bongo, Omar Bongo’s daughter and therefore Ali Bongo’s sister.  Pascaline Bongo herself was her own presidential father’s chief of cabinet while her partner Jean Ping was Bongo’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Confused? Let’s just add that the constitutional court head judge, on whose mouth apparently lingers the fate of the nation, is related to Pascaline Bongo (Jean Ping’s former partner) and Ali Bongo as ex-stepmother – she has had children with the late dictator. Just in case you are confused, the word “ex” means nothing in such a context with high stakes. As the saying goes in Africa, money knows no grudge.

Essentially, people who have recently died in Gabon in election-related violence, have died for a reason:  a simple family dispute. A family succession battle to which the international community has now been summoned to take sides or at least to act as referee. While Ping is activating the influential network he nurtured during his time as international political figure and ultimately Chairperson of the African Union Commission from 2008 to 2012, Ali Bongo is also exploiting the contacts he has made as President, and before that as Bongo’s beloved son. In any case, Ali and Jean Bongo [name confusion intended] are proud sons of late Omar Bongo.  They are pretty much set in their ways and have succeeded in mobilizing the whole international community into a family crisis, a brotherly power struggle that has nothing to do with democracy worthy of this level of international attention.

Whatever the outcome of this family quarrel, and despite chants of democracy and development trumpeted by a helpless international community observing this election, the Gabonese people will end up with an extension of the Bongo regime or dynasty. Poverty will continue to bring mourning to families excluded from the Bongo/Ping clan; Gabon’s natural resources will continued to be plundered. For all those superpowers and international organisations who are now barely able to conceal their “outrage”, it shall be business as usual.

Dieunedort Wandji

[1] Rue89 Nouvelobs “Virer un ministre ? C’est simple comme un coup de fil de Bongo” 07/09/2009


[2] Caroline Boin.  Portland | The Quarterly: The Africa Edition | The end of Françafrique? French relations with Africa under Hollande


[3] Expactica (8th June 2009). France loses chief ally in Africa.


[4] Marc Ona Essangui said this in a TV on Wednesday 17 August, 2016.