Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Return of Françafrique: Without much notice from the French, Hollande is bringing France back into Africa

On Bastille Day this year, African troops from Mali, Chad and other nations proudly marched down the Champs-Élysées as part of the traditional French national-day military parade
writes Pierre Haski in the New York Times.
It has been a long time since Africa was honored so prominently in France. That reflects a significant shift in France’s interest in Africa, created in part by the decline of France’s global influence in a changing world. 

Relations with Africa, and particularly with France’s former colonies, have long been sufficiently important for Paris to merit a French advisory unit in the president’s office known as the cellule africaine (African cell). 

When France gave most of its African colonies independence in 1960, it retained considerable control. French advisers pulled the strings in ministries from Abidjan to Libreville and reported directly to Jacques Foccart, Charles de Gaulle’s powerful chief advisor on African affairs, a man who could decide to overthrow a president or send French paratroopers to rescue one. 

These arrangements, dubbed “Françafrique,” remained almost untouched for nearly three decades, no matter who ruled in the Élysée Palace.

 … In Mali, [President Hollande] tried for months to promote an “African solution” to the jihadist takeover of a territory in the Sahel region as big as France. 

But when the rebel columns began advancing on Bamako last January, Hollande moved in decisively with troops and jets, seeking at the same time to mobilize regional forces to take over from the French as soon as possible. 

Then in May, the French president traveled to Addis Ababa for the 50th anniversary of the African Union, the only Western head of government to do so. And he surprised his audience by inviting all 54 African states to Paris next December for a “summit on peace and security on the continent” to discuss Africa’s failure to deal with its own security issues in the past half century. 

This is the biggest diplomatic initiative taken by France on the African continent in many years. And even if some African leaders felt “summoned” rather than “invited,” they recognized the validity of the issue. 

Without much notice from French public opinion, which is focused more on gloomy economic statistics, Hollande is bringing France back into Africa. President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Africa shows that the United States may likewise be showing a greater interest in the continent.