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Backgrounder: The French Military in Africa

Council on Foreign Relations

Author: Andrew Hansen
February 9, 2007


For decades France viewed post-colonial Africa as its exclusive sphere of influence, or pré carré. France still maintains military influence and stations thousands of its troops across the continent, from western Senegal to the Horn of Africa. But changes in its strategic priorities, as well as its inability to halt the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, have shifted France’s military role on the continent. France has folded many of its African missions into multinational operations. Yet some experts debate whether Africa should remain a top priority for French foreign policymakers or if its efforts on the continent are worthwhile.

What are France’s interests in Africa?

French businesses have longstanding operations in Africa. The continent accounts for 5 percent of France’s exports. Though France has diversified its sources of raw materials, Africa remains an important supplier of oil and metals. French officials also stress the importance of encouraging regional stability and development, support of democratic governments, and the protection of the 240,000 French nationals living in Africa. “The African continent is our neighbor, and when it’s shaken by conflict, we’re shaken as well,” said André Dulait, a French parliamentarian during a debate on Africa. But not everyone is convinced African affairs should be of primary importance to French foreign policy. François Roche, editor of the French version of Foreign Policy, argues that resources spent on Africa would be better placed in Asia and South America, where France’s future economic and geopolitical interests are likely to be.

Where are French troops based in Africa?

Of 12,000 French troops engaged in peacekeeping operations around the world, nearly half are deployed in Africa in both military and advisory capacities, according to the French Ministry of Defense. There are three main French bases in Africa.


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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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