Vast Majority of Malians Express Confidence in Russia’s Ability To Address Jihadist Violence

Map of Mali

Map of Mali.

“More than nine of out of ten Malians have confidence in Russia to help their country in the face of jihadist insecurity.”

In its annual report gauging public interest on various topics in Mali, the German foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) has revealed deep—and sometimes counterintuitive—insights about how Malians think about the security situation in their country.[i] According to the accompanying news article from pan-African news aggregator,which summarized the FES report, one of the key takeaways of the poll is the deep trust that a vast majority of Malians appear to place in Russia’s ability to help the country address violence caused by its various jihadist insurgencies. As the article relays, More than nine out of ten Malians have confidence in Russia to help their country in the face of jihadist insecurity,” with 69 percent of respondents “very confident” and 22 percent “rather confident.” Also, four out of five Malians viewed there to be no negative impact from the withdrawal of the French Operation Barkhane, while 48 percent of respondents instead noted that the security situation had improved with the French counterterrorism force’s departure.[ii] Another notable finding relates to Malian perspectives about their own defense and security forces: the most common sentiment expressed (by 58 percent of respondents) was the Malian defense and security forces represented a source of pride for the respondent. The next most common perception was that “I see them as my protectors,” a view offered by 36 percent of respondents. Only 1 percent said that “I have no confidence in defense and security forces,” and no respondent agreed with the sentiment that “I am afraid of the defense and security forces.” Given that Mali and its neighbor Burkina Faso are now the new epicenters of global jihadist terrorism-linked deaths,[iii] and both have engaged the Wagner Group,[iv] the findings of the FES report are perhaps counterintuitive for outside observers. Malians see security improving, their lots in life getting better, and they are generally satisfied with the military regime of Assimi Goïta and the way he is managing military and security affairs. The Wagner Group’s presence appears to be welcomed, and France is not missed. Such perspectives should be taken seriously as the United States and its allies seek to engage Mali and the broader region.


“Les Maliens majoritairement confiants dans la Russie, selon un sondage, (A majority of Malians are confident in Russia, according to a poll),” AfricaNews (pan-African news aggregator), 4 May 2023.

More than nine out of ten Malians have confidence in Russia to help their country in the face of insecurity and jihadism, indicates an opinion poll carried out by the German foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and published on Wednesday.

Malians are also satisfied in the same proportions with the leader of the junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta, who took power by force in August 2020, this survey shows.

The junta severed a longstanding alliance with France and turned militarily and politically to Russia from 2021.

The Malian army has received several deliveries of Russian military equipment as well as the reinforcement of hundreds of men, Russian army instructors according to it, mercenaries from the private company Wagner, whose actions are decried, according to France and its western partners.

The survey indicates that 69% of respondents are very confident and 22% rather confident in Russian aid in the fight against insecurity.

The general situation of the country has improved for more than four out of five Malians (82%), a result in clear increase compared to previous years, says the survey.

Nine out of ten Malians say they are satisfied with the management of the so-called transition period pending a return of civilians to power scheduled for March 2024.

Three out of five believe that keeping to the schedule [of the transition of power] is not important, the study notes. The first stage of this calendar, a constitutional referendum scheduled for March 19, has been postponed to an unspecified date.


 [i] For a full copy of the FES report, in French, see: “Mali-Mètre 2023 – Enquête d’opinion, Fevrier 2023,” Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, May 2023.

[ii] For an example of the often-contentious relationship between Mali and France, especially regarding counterterrorism, see: Jason Warner, “Mali Claims France Funded Terrorists; France Denies,” OE Watch, 10-2022.

[iii] For more on the Sahel as a new epicenter for jihadist terrorism-linked deaths, see: Jason Warner, “Global Terrorism Declined Slightly in 2022, ith the Sahel as the New Epicenter,” OE Watch,05-2023.; Jason Warner, “African Leaders, UN See Terrorism in the Sahel as Dire,” OE Watch, 11-2022.

[iv] For more on how Mali and Burkina Faso have each approached their relationships with the Wagner Group, see: Jason Warner, “Mali Defends Reliance on Russian Counterterrorism Assistance,” OE Watch, 03-2023.; Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso Fights Terrorism With Recruits and Russia,” OE Watch, 02-2023.

Image Information:

Image: Map of Mali
Attribution: Creative Commons 4.0

Burkina Faso Claims Disguised Jihadists, Not Military, Responsible for Civilian Killings

Map of Burkina Faso.

Map of Burkina Faso.

“A lot of people think it’s the Russians who are guiding us,” said Coulibaly. “But the Burkinabe aren’t children.”

Burkina Faso’s ruling military regime has denied claims that its soldiers were responsible for the massacre of an estimated 136 people in the northern village of Karma in late April. According to the accompanying article from the pan-African news aggregator, Burkinabe Defense Minister Colonel Kassoum Coulibaly claimed that the mass killings, which took the lives of an estimated 45 children on 20 April 2023, were instead carried out by jihadists dressed as Burkinabe soldiers. In many reports, however, villagers have asserted that the attackers were wearing patches indicating they belonged to the 3rd Battalion of Burkina Faso’s Rapid Intervention Brigade. According to Amnesty International, villagers have attested that the mass raids likely came as a result of their assumed complicity in allowing some members of jihadist groups to “pass through their village,” before jihadists launched a deadly attack killing 40 members of Burkina Faso’s Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland (VDP) forces in the village of Aourema.[i] For several years, Burkina Faso has been overtaken by violence from armed groups associated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Along with neighboring Mali, it is now one of the most active sites of jihadist violence in the world.[ii] As the United Nations and human rights groups have urged an investigation of the so-called Karma massacres, leaders in Burkina Faso have also claimed that these calls are being led by an “international coalition”[iii] of unnamed enemies of Burkina Faso, which are angry about its closer ties to Russia.[iv] Many reports have suggested that the Wagner Group is operating inside Burkina Faso, although the Defense Minister denies it. As he articulated: “A lot of people think it’s the Russians who are guiding us… But the Burkinabe aren’t children.” Though not necessarily implicating Wagner Group personnel, the massacre of civilians in Karma, Burkina Faso, looks and feels like another massacre of civilians in Moura, Mali, which killed an estimated 500-plus civilians under the guise of counterterrorism operations in March 2022. In that massacre, still under investigation, the culprits were not only members of the Malian army but also foreigners, widely believed to be part of the Wagner Group, which operates in support of Mali’s fight against jihadist elements.[v] Indeed, a notable trend in West Africa is the ever-deepening alliance between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, all led by military rulers, with the former two having likely welcomed Wagner mercenaries to address their destabilizing jihadist insurgencies.[vi] Collectively, these events indicate that civilians continue to bear the brunt of often-unrestrained counterterrorism efforts by African militaries. Where the Wagner Group seems to be in play, such widespread human rights abuses appear to be more severe than in other spaces where they are not.


“Coulibaly dénonce ‘une coalition international’ contre le Burkina Faso (Coulibaly denounces an ;international coalition’ against Burkina Faso),” (pan-African news aggregator, 4 May 2023.

Burkina Faso’s defence minister on Wednesday denounced what he said was an “international coalition” lined up against his country and alleged there had been violations of the country’s air space.

And the country’s intelligence agency said an April massacre of civilians — which some rights groups have blamed on the army — was carried out by jihadist fighters dressed as soldiers.

Colonel Kassoum Coulibaly, appointed by the military junta running the country, also echoed the denials by the new regime’s leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, that the Russian mercenary force Wagner was operating there.

“A lot of people think it’s the Russians who are guiding us,” said Coulibaly. “But the Burkinabe aren’t children.”

Russia, he insisted, was not setting the rules, and “gives us nothing”. It was the people of Burkina Faso who were contributing to the war effort against the jihadist insurgency in the country, he said.

“There is no Wagner here.”

Coulibaly was speaking in Ouagadougou at a meeting with union representatives and leaders of other civil society groups.

He suggested that the international coalition aligned against the country — the members of which he did not identify — was responding to the country’s closer ties with Russia since the coup last September that brought the military to power.

But the country only asked for what it needed, he insisted.“We don’t need anyone to send us a single foreign soldier,” he insisted. “We have our VDP,” he added, referring to the Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland (VDP), an auxiliary force.


[i] “Burkina Faso: Responsibility of the army indicated in Karma massacre,” Amnesty International, 3 May 2023.

[ii] For more on the Sahel’s rise as the deadliest global region for jihadist-linked terrorism, see: Jason Warner, “Coastal West African States Brace for Wave of Terrorism From the Sahel,” OE Watch, 10-2022.; Jason Warner, “African Leaders, UN See Terrorism in the Sahel as Dire,” OE Watch, 11-2022.; Jason Warner, “Global Terrorism Declined Slightly in 2022, With the Sahel as the New Epicenter,” OE Watch, 05-2023.

[iii] The trend of certain francophone African states decrying French, Western, or international forces targeting them or supporting violence within them has been on the rise. For examples, see: Jason Warner, “CAR Joins Mali in Accusing France of Funding Terrorists,” OE Watch, 04-2023.; Jason Warner, “Mali Claims France Funded Terrorists; France Denies,” OE Watch, 10-2022.

 [iv] As Burkina Faso has become one of the epicenters for jihadist violence globally, it has undertaken a shift away from historical reliance on France, and toward Russia. For more, see: Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso Fights Terrorism With Recruits and Russia,” OE Watch, 02-2023.; Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso: A Bellwether on Russian and French Presence,” OE Watch, 11-2022.

 [v] “Mali: Massacre by the Army, Foreign Soldiers,” Human Rights Watch, 5 April 2022.

[vi] For more on the deepening diplomatic and security links between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, see: Jason Warner, “Russia-Supported Military Rulers in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea Continue To Deepen Ties,” OE Watch, 04-2023.; Jason Warner, “”West African States Ruled By Military Leaders Seek To Circumvent Sanctions,” OE Watch, 03-2023.

Image Information:

Image: Map of Burkina Faso.
Attribution: CCO Public Domain