Mali’s capital Bamako has banned a demonstration against France’s military role in the West African country, the city’s government said Wednesday, citing health concerns.
Daniel Dembele, the chief of staff to Bamako’s governor, told AFP that the city hall did not authorise the protest planned for Wednesday “because of Covid-19 measures”.
Mali has been struggling to quell a jihadist insurgency that first emerged in the country’s north in 2012, before spreading to the centre and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, first intervened in the country in 2013 to help drive back jihadist forces advancing on Bamako.
It now has 5,100 troops deployed across Africa’s arid Sahel region, as part of its anti-jihadist force Barkhane.
But France’s military presence in Mali is frequently criticised on social media and by civic leaders. Activists also stage occasional demonstrations in Bamako against French troops.
Their role was placed in the spotlight earlier this month when several residents in the village of Bounti said about 20 people in a wedding party had been killed in a strike by a helicopter.
It occurred on January 3, they said, near where French forces said they carried out an airstrike on jihadists using a fighter jet.
France’s military has insisted it struck jihadists, ruling out the possibility of any mistake.
Several organisers of Wednesday’s banned protest are members of Mali’s interim legislature, set up after the August 18 coup that toppled president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Young military officers led the putsch after weeks of anti-Keita protests.
Under the threat of sanctions, they subsequently handed over to an interim government between September and October, which is meant to rule for 18 months before staging elections.
Army figures retain strong influence over the interim government, however, which has stressed its committment to military cooperation with France.
Interim President Bah Ndaw thanked foreign forces in Mali during a military ceremony on Tuesday evening, for example, for “risking their lives for the liberation of our country”.
In France on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron announced an “adjustment” to French forces in the Sahel.
Many have interpreted his remarks as a sign that France is preparing to reduce its deployment in the region.