Burkina junta chief denies diplomatic split from France

Burkina Faso's junta leader said on Friday his country had not severed diplomatic ties with France, which he has asked to withdraw its forces, and denied Russian Wagner mercenaries were in the country.

Burkina junta chief denies diplomatic split from France
Capitain Ibrahim Traore in Ouagadougou on October 15th, 2022. Burkina Faso's military ruler has denied that mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group are active in his country. Photo by OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT / AFP

Former colonial power France had special forces based in the capital Ouagadougou, but its presence had come under intense scrutiny as anti-French sentiment in the region grows, with Paris withdrawing its ambassador to Burkina over the junta’s demands.

“The end of diplomatic agreements, no!” Captain Ibrahim Traore said in a television interview with Burkinabe journalists. “There is no break in diplomatic relations or hatred against a particular state.”

Traore went on to deny that there were mercenaries from the Wagner Group deployed in Burkina Faso, even as the junta has nurtured ties with Moscow.

Wagner, an infamous Russian mercenary group founded in 2014, has been involved in conflicts in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Ukraine.

“We’ve heard everywhere that Wagner is in Ouagadougou,” he said, adding that it was a rumour “created so that everybody would distance themselves from us”.

“We have our Wagner, it is the VDP that we recruit,” he said, referring to the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland civilian auxiliaries. “They are our Wagner.”

He said that “all the people want is their sovereignty, to live with dignity. It doesn’t mean leaving one country for another.”

Paris confirmed last month that its special forces troops, deployed to help fight a years-long jihadist insurgency, would leave within a month.

Bloody conflict

A landlocked country in the heart of West Africa’s Sahel, Burkina Faso is one of the world’s most volatile and impoverished countries.

It has been struggling with a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015. Thousands of civilians, troops and police have been killed, more than two million people have fled their homes, and around 40 percent of the country lies outside the government’s control.

Anger within the military at the mounting toll sparked two coups in 2022, the most recent of which was in September, when 34-year-old Traore seized power.

He is standing by a pledge made by the preceding junta to stage elections for a civilian government by 2024.

After the ruling junta in Mali forced French troops out last year, the army officers running neighbouring Burkina Faso followed suit, asking Paris to empty its garrison.

Under President Emmanuel Macron, France was already drawing down its troops across the Sahel region, which just a few years ago numbered more than 5,000, backed up with fighter jets, helicopters and infantry fighting vehicles.

About 3,000 remain, but the forced departures from Mali and Burkina Faso — as well as the Central African Republic to the south last year — underline how anti-French winds are gathering force.

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The plan to make getting a French drivers’ licence quicker and cheaper

A bill aiming to make the process of obtaining a French driver's licence more affordable and smooth is making its way through France's parliament. Here is how it could impact would-be drivers in France.

The plan to make getting a French drivers' licence quicker and cheaper

French lawmakers are looking to make it less expensive to get a driver’s licence, in a bill that gained unanimous support during a vote on Monday in the country’s Assemblée Nationale. 

Originally tabled by Sacha Houilié, a member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, the initiative is intended to improve the slow and notoriously expensive process of getting a licence in France.

Here’s what the bill proposes;

One youth, one licence

This online platform would be managed by the French government, and it would help future drivers be able to locate financial aid that might help them pay for their driving test.

As things stand currently, getting a driver’s licence in France is a lengthy, and expensive process – particularly as many people have to take the test more than once, and thus wait a significant amount of time in between test dates.

On average, the average candidate for a French driver’s licence pays about €1,800 for the whole process, including lessons and the theory and practical tests.

READ MORE: Four years and €1,800: What foreigners should know about the French driving test?

Allowing CPF budgets to fund licences

The proposed text would allow for one’s personal training account (CPF) to help fund all types of licenses, including motorcycles and small cars. Currently, only the B licenses – for standard cars – are able to do so.

In 2021, CPF budgets helped to finance 322,000 driver’s licences in France – about 28 percent of the licences issued that year. This would help extend it even further.

READ MORE: How to claim the cost of language or driving lessons from the French government

Contracted test examiners

With the goal of being able to offer more testing slots, the bill would extend the authorisation that exists in some parts of France for contracted workers to be authorised as test examiners for the practical (road test) aspect of the French driver’s licence to be nationwide. This would allegedly help to make the process faster, particularly for those who need to take the test more than once.

Houlié, the député who brought the bill forward, said that this will not be “outsourcing” the role of test examiners, but some members of the French political left have contested this part of the bill. This is not “outsourcing”, Mr. Houlié assures us in the face of inspectors’ concerns. The left has protested against the use of contract workers.

What about foreigners in France?

If you’re a foreign national living in France, you may need to exchange your licence for a French one.

If you’re lucky, the country that issued your licence will have an agreement with France, so then the process is a simple swap.

If you’re unlucky, there is no agreement in place and then you will need to take a French driving test in order to legally drive in France – even if you have many years of driving experience.

Full details on the swap process here.

This particularly affects Americans in France, as only some US states have agreements with France.

The European Union has proposed legislation that would create a list of countries that have ‘comparable’ driving standards to the EU, and allow people who have a licence from those countries to simply swap their licence for a local one, whichever EU country they live in.

Essentially, this could allow Americans from any state to simply swap their licence, rather than having to go through the testing process again. 

READ MORE: Americans in France: What you need to know about proposed changes to EU driving licence rules

Unfortunately, the plan will likely take many months, potentially years, to come into fruition.