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France - Africa Relations

President Emmanuel Macron on 02 March 2023 said the era of French interference in Africa was “well over” as he began a four-nation tour of the continent to renew frayed ties. Anti-French sentiment runs high in some former African colonies as the continent becomes a renewed diplomatic battleground, with Russian and Chinese influence growing in the region. Macron said France harbored no desire to return to past policies of interfering in Africa ahead of an environment summit in Gabon, the first leg of his trip.

“The age of Francafrique is well over,” Macron said in remarks to the French community in the capital Libreville, referring to France’s post-colonisation strategy of supporting authoritarian leaders to defend its interests. “Francafrique” is a favourite target of pan-Africanists, who say that after the wave of decolonisation in 1960 France propped up dictators in its former colonies in exchange for access to resources and military bases.

Ahead of his visit, Macron said there would be a “noticeable reduction” in France’s troop presence in Africa “in the coming months” and a greater focus on training and equipping allied countries’ forces. France had in the past year withdrawn troops from former colonies Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic. The pullout from Mali and Burkina Faso, where its soldiers were supporting the Sahel nations battle a long-running jihadist insurgency, came on the back of a wave of local hostility.

Macron insisted the planned reorganisation was “neither a withdrawal nor disengagement”, defining it as adapting to the needs of partners. More than 3,000 French soldiers are deployed in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Djibouti, according to official figures. Another 3,000 are in the Sahel region of West Africa, including in Niger and Chad.

Outside of NATO and Europe, France had numerous military agreements with former colonies, especially nations in Africa. France was the old colonial power of many African countries. So the question of a French military intervention is always sensitive. At the same time France is trying to reduce its intervention in Africa, the African countries also tried to have several partners. France is not the main partner in terms of trade and other sectors. France has military bases in many of its former colonies and retains rapid response troops in Chad, Central African Republic and Ivory Coast. Nicolas Sarkozy intervened militarily in West Africa, carrying out airstrikes in Ivory Coast in 2011 that helped end a longstanding conflict there.

France had long maintained five permanent military bases with responsibility for Africa -- in Cote d'Ivoire Djibouti, Gabon, Senegal, and on Reunion Island, the French overseas department near Madagascar. There was a de facto sixth "base" consisting of the long-term operational deployment in Chad (Operation Epervier, in Chad since 1986). Basing issues in the four continental African states (Cote d'Ivoire Djibouti, Gabon, and Senegal) are governed by bilateral Defense Agreements, which include certain provisions obligating France to defend those states from external aggression.

In 2006 (i.e., before Sarkozy's election in 2007), the French began implementing a new command structure in Africa featuring four geographic commands, each of which would generally conform to an analogous regional sub-grouping. Notably, Cote d'Ivoire was dropped from this scheme. Given the regional (vice bilateral) focus of the new commands, the orientation of the new commands may allow more ready interaction and cooperation with the USG's new AFRICOM, once the later becomes more present and operational in Africa.

  1. French Forces in Djibouti (FFDJ): Responsible for Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda, or, roughly, the IGAD countries.
  2. French Forces in Cape Verde (FFCV): Despite its name, a command located in Senegal responsible for Senegal, Cape Verde, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, roughly paralleling ECOWAS.
  3. French Forces in Gabon (FFG): Responsible for Gabon, Chad, C.A.R., Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, DRC, Congo Brazzaville, and Angola, corresponding with ECCAS.
  4. Armed Forces in the Southern Zone of the Indian Ocean (FAZSOI): Located on Reunion Island and responsible for Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho, South Africa, and Madagascar, mirroring SADC.

Establishing the four commands appeared to be only the first step in France's plan to consolidate and centralize its military presence in Africa.

François Hollande declared on a visit to Senegal in 2012 that “La Francafrique is over”, referring to longstanding attempts by French officials to influence African leaders and events even after independence from France. But a long history of French support for governments perceived as corrupt remained a major point of contention. Civil society groups and NGOs have accused Paris of complicity in undermining human rights as well as economic development in places such as in Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon and Togo whenever it suits French political or business interests.

Compounding these resentments was France's status as a favorite destination for the ill-gotten gains of African elites with a taste for Parisian opulence. Others had been accused of illegally funneling cash to French political figures: Former president Nicolas Sarkozy is facing court over allegedly accepting generous campaign contributions from late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The 2013 Mali intervention symbolized a changed French relationship with Africa -- and the presidency of French leader Francois Hollande. It marked a dramatic change in the old, so-called "France-Afrique" -- a relationship once marked by lack of clarity, cronyism and questionable business ties. Since Hollande came to power, tried to normalize relations with France's former colonies, by reporting to parliament and sending missions to Africa with clearly defined goals. While the change began with Sarkozy, Hollande offered his own branding that highlighted human rights -- although French business interests in Africa also shape policy.

France criticized the Conte government's closed-door immigration policies in Italy, while Italy said France had a "colonial" attitude toward Africa and that it should do and pay more to help resolve the problem. Relations between Italy and France continued to deteriorate in February 2019 after France recalled its ambassador to Italy and issued a statement comparing relations between the countries to when they were on opposite sides during World War II. The Italian coalition government headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has continually clashed with the European Union since taking power in June 2018.

The war of words between France and Italy escalated with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accusing France of being the prime cause of the ‘migrant crisis’ in Europe. Luigi Di Maio, Italian Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the populist Five Star Movement, asked the European Union to consider imposing sanctions on France for their colonial history in Africa, but ironically failed to mention Italy’s own colonial past in the continent. He said France had "never stopped colonising tens of African states".

The far-right leader added: "France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts.... If people are leaving today it's because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonising dozens of African countries.”

Di Maio blamed France for impoverishing Africa and encouraging migration to Europe. He accused the French government of manipulating the economies of mainly former French colonies in Africa, which use a form of the pre-independence currency known as a CFA franc. "France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts," Di Maio said in January 2019.

According to him, “If we have people who are leaving Africa now it’s because some European countries, and France in particular, have never stopped colonising Africa….If France didn’t have its African colonies, because that’s what they should be called, it would be the 15th largest world economy. Instead it’s among the first, exactly because of what it is doing in Africa.”

Critics of the CFA do not only see it as a colonial vestige but also as a goldmine for the political elite and the super-rich in the francophone monetary zone. Calls for the abandonment of the CFA have gained momentum across the francophone monetary zone and even among citizens of the francophone countries. The Pro-CFA extrapolate a catastrophic economic result tantamount to the one which gripped the francophone monetary zone in 2004; however, on the other hand, CFA-exiteers are of the conviction that no developing country whose currency rate is determined by a banker sitting hundreds of miles away in a developed country can progress.

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Page last modified: 16-03-2023 18:49:55 ZULU