Burkina urges 'federation' with Mali for joint clout

“We could create a flexible federation.”

Published - February 03, 2023 03:37 am IST - Ouagadougou

 Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou. File

Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou. File | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Burkina Faso's prime minister, in a visit to neighbouring Mali this week, has suggested the two countries form a "federation" to boost their economic clout, his office said.

Both nations are battling jihadist insurgencies and are run by juntas who have turned away from France, the former colonial power and traditional ally.

"We could create a flexible federation that would be mutually reinforcing and respect the aspirations of both sides," Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyelem de Tambela said, according to an official account of the visit published by his office on Thursday.

"Mali is a major producer of cotton, cattle and gold. Burkina Faso also produces cotton, cattle and gold," Kyelem de Tambela said during the trip on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"So long as we each take separate paths, we don't have much clout. But if you put Mali's and Burkina Faso's production of cotton, gold and cattle together, it becomes a powerhouse."

Kyelem de Tambela referred to a past effort to forge a federation in francophone West Africa -- a stillborn bid to bring together Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Benin shortly before they gained independence from France in 1960.

"Our forebears tried to create groupings, like the Mali Federation, which sadly did not last. But they showed us the way," he said.

"One of my reasons for going to Mali is that for a long time we've been looking elsewhere for solutions when they're often right under our noses," he continued.

The two landlocked Sahel countries rank among the poorest and most volatile nations in the world, and have experienced few periods of calm since independence.

They are also battling a brutal jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives, driven more than two million from their homes and prompted military takeovers of the elected government.

Both nations have ordered the departure of French forces instrumental in the fight against jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

The junta in Burkina is under pressure to follow Mali in weaving close ties with Moscow, and bring in mercenaries from the Wagner group.

Kyelem de Tambela hailed the "genuine revolution" he said had taken place in Mali since Colonel Assimi Goita seized power in 2020, and said it had "inspired" the new military rulers in Burkina.

Burkina and Mali have each witnessed two military coups since 2020 and are under pressure from the international community to return to democratic civilian rule.

Creating a new federation should be undertaken now, before power is returned to civilians, "because when the politicians get back in, it'll be tricky", Kyelem de Tambela said.

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