In Mali, are anti-France and pro-Russia sentiments intertwined?

Within the context of Operation Barkhane, there is no discernible correlation between the pro-Russia sentiment among Malian nationalists and their anti-France inclinations.

Authored by Tsoi, M.H., & Xiao, J.Z., & Ruan, J.X., posted on February, 2024

Executive Summary

▪ This article is based on the final project for Professor Chen Haohan’s "Global Information War" in the First Semester, 2023-24. We investigate whether, within the context of Malian nationalism and Operation Barkhane, is there a positive correlation between the pro-Russia sentiment among Malian nationalists and their anti-France inclinations.

▪ We utilize Information Tracer to collect views from Malian nationalist Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) on Facebook. The collected data lays the foundation for further quantitative analysis that demonstrates the degree of significance of their pro-Russia and anti-France sentiments.

▪ We find that, unlike the common perception in France or Europe suggests, the anti-France and pro-Russia sentiments are not necessarily intertwined.


Operation Barkhane, launched in August 2014, aims to stabilize the Sahel region, including Mali, by reinforcing local security forces against extremist groups like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Scholarly interpretations of the operation vary, with some arguing it follows a counterinsurgency strategy, while others claim it's a failed French version of the War on Terror with neocolonialist ambitions.

Anti-France sentiment has risen, with conspiracy theories accusing Mali's government of being a French puppet and questioning Barkhane's true intentions. Meanwhile, pro-Russia inclinations have grown, as seen in anti-France demonstrations and two coup d'états in Mali, leading to negotiations with the Russian-linked Wagner Group.

This pro-Russia trend could be due to Russia's propaganda campaign, accusing France of reviving imperialism in Africa. Public opinion on social media reflects political preferences regarding the two powers' influence in Mali. The Wagner Group allegedly funds Pan-Africanist KOLs on social media, promoting Russia's positive role in Mali. This research aims to investigate the interactions between anti-France and pro-Russia sentiments amongst nationalists in Mali in the Operation Barkhane context.

Research Method

The time frame of our data is from January 1, 2017, to October 31, 2023. We collect the top 500 posts with the most interaction each year from the target platform – Facebook.

...Research method diagram.

Our quantitative analysis focuses on three group’s social media posts.

Group 1: Pan-Africanist with Russian Affiliation

Kémi Séba: a French anti-colonial activist leading the Black supremacist group Tribu Ka and having ties to the Wagner Group.

Nathalie Yamb: a French Beninese political activist promoting Russia-Africa cooperation and linked to Prigozhin's network.

Group 2: Malian Nationalist without Confirmed Russian Affiliation

We used two common terms to trace down the top accounts with the most influence or interactions. "Vive les FAMa" ( shortened form of "Vive les Forces Armées Maliennes", lit. long live the Malian Armed Forces), and "Vive le Mali".

To ensure relevance, we excluded certain accounts from our target group due to inactivity in 2023 or lack of Mali-specific content.

Page Total Appearances
Cheick Harouna Sankaré, Guide Spirituel, Khalife Tarîqa Tidjane 36
Djo Balla Sitan Den Tro 80
Faso Mali 22
Média A 17
Djo Balla Sitan Den Tro 20

Group 3: FAMa24 Network

The DFRLab has identified 5 Facebook accounts promoting anti-France discourses, in which over 8,850 posts were published within 60 seconds of each other across the various pages, with many being under 20 seconds apart.

Keyword Selection

To quantify the trend of the two discourses, we went through the rhetoric of the selected accounts, and listed some of the most common keywords which are not event-specific. With the use of Information Tracer and Excel, we then quantified the changes in anti-France and pro-Russia discourses of the 3 groups of pages.

Keywords Meaning Alternative
Pro-Russia vive la Russie long live Russia
coopération Russia and Mali cooperation Coopération entre le Mali et la Russie / Mali-Russie
🇷🇺(Russian flag emoji) Russian flag
Anti-France Françafrique French-Africa franceafrique/
néocolonialisme neocolonialism néo coloniaux
impérialisme imperialism, imperialist imperialist (es)
Occupe(r) occupation occupation / occupé
mercenaires français French mercenaries
à bas la France Down with France
...Lists of keywords & their agrammatical variations.

Results and findings

Overall, there is no evidential positive correlation between the usage of anti-France and pro-Russia keywords.

In other words, there is an insignificant relationship within these narratives under the Malian nationalistic discourse on Facebook, which mismatches with our hypothesis – that the usage of anti-France and pro-Russia are positively related in the context of Malian nationalism.

By allocating the pro-Russia keyword counts on the x-axis, and anti-France on the y-axis, these Facebook accounts can be aligned into 3 batches.

...Pro-RU & Anti-FR Keyword count
Significantly Anti-France Not significantly Anti-France
Significantly Pro-Russia the 2 Pan Africanists with Russian affiliations from Group 1
Kemi Seba
Nathalie Yamb
3 from Group 2
Média A
Kati 24
and 2 from Group 3
FAMa 24
Not significantly Pro-Russia / mainly from Group 2, with a focus on football and music
Cheick Harouna Sankaré, Guide Spirituel, Khalife Tarîqa Tidjane
Cherifla Douba Douma
Djo Balla Sitan Den Tro
AMARA Bathily Page
as well as 1 from Group 3
Collectif pour la Défense des Militaires CDM

Pro-RU & Anti-FR

We observed a strong correlation in keyword usage between the two Pan-Africanist KOLs with Russian affiliation, signifying a collective effort in advocating the anti-France and pro-Russia discourses between them, which matches our qualitative research.

... Keyword Count on the 2 Pan Africanists

Neither Significantly Pro-RU nor Anti-FR

Another batch, primarily consisting of Group 2 pages, as well as Group 3’s “CDM”, demonstrates neutrality towards both pro-Russia and anti-France sentiments.

To avoid missing any posts by overlooking relevant keywords, we have conducted manual searches on Facebook. However, the result remains the same.

...Keyword count

Pro-RU but not Anti-FR

The last batch leans pro-Russia without being notably anti-France. However, since 2022, there has been a surge of anti-France sentiment among the pro-Russia and originally not anti-France nationalists. Despite this, the use of pro-Russia keywords remains relatively insignificant.

...Anti-France Keyword Count of the Batch

After a series of incidents in these 6 years, there is an opinion divergence among these Malian nationalist KOLs (who were popular back in 2017) according to their pro-Russia sentiment. However, still, neither of them is significantly anti-France. This, at least in the context of Mali, opposes the common perception in France or Europe, that the Anti-France and Pro-Russia sentiments are intertwined, or two sides of the same coin.

...Pro-Russia Keyword Count of the Batch

From 2017 to 2020, the pro-Russia sentiment had been steadily increasing, except in 2020.

Interestingly, after 2020, the use of pro-Russia keywords varied among these pages, some declining gradually while others remained constant or slightly increased.

The sudden surge from 2018 to 2019 matches the Malian dissatisfaction and frustration with the French army’s lack of progress and civilian casualties from French airstrikes. By then, civil groups which advocated replacing the French presence with Russian forces started to emerge, for example, Groupe des Patriotes du Mali (GPM) was established in September 2017.

Then, in 2020, due to the pandemic and coup d’état, the discussion on such a possibility shrank. However, in 2021, the topic regained traction following the deal between the junta and the Wagner Group in September, along with Wagner's first deployment in Mali later that year.

The discussion has slightly cooled down but still gaining momentum until 2023, when a failed coup d’état attempt by Wagner led to the death of the mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin later, which might have caused the slight decline in pro-Russia sentiment in 2023.

Comparing the two Pro-RU batches

To examine the correlation between discourses of Malian nationalist KOLs and the 2 Pan-Africanist KOLs with Russian affiliations, we compared the two pro-RU batches.

...Anti-France Keyword Count Comparison

We observed a slight alignment in anti-France sentiment, particularly in 2019. However, after 2020, this correlation diminished, indicating independent trends.

...Pro-Russia Keyword Count Comparison

Meanwhile, the usage of pro-Russia sentiments noticeably aligned among the two batches. There was a sudden surge in 2019, a slowdown in 2020, and a gradual increase until 2022.

Despite our data illustrating a positive correlation between the discourse of the two Pan-Africanist Russia-affiliated KOLs, and the Malian nationalists, this cannot establish a causal relationship between them, as we cannot rule out the possibility that their trends are both affected by a bigger event.

In other words, we cannot prove that the operation of the two Pan-Africanist KOLs with Russian affiliation successfully led the political discourse in Mali.


Our empirical data shows that, within the context of Malian nationalism and Operation Barkhane, there is no apparent positive correlation between the pro-Russia sentiment among Malian nationalists and their anti-France inclinations. While both discourses are important manifestations of Malian nationalism, they are not necessarily relevant.

We observed a strong correlation in keyword counts for two Pan-Africanist KOLs with Russian affiliation. The trends of pro-Russia rhetoric usage between the two and other Malian nationalist KOLs share strong correlations. Yet, further comprehensive studies are necessary to ascertain the potential impact of KOLs with Russian affiliations on Mali's political discourse.