Thursday, March 01, 2007


"Thus between France on the one hand and a sizeable part of Africa and Madagascar on the other, an assemblage of men, territories and resources was built up, whose common language was French, which in terms of currency constituted a 'franc area', in which goods of every kind were exchanged on a preferential basis; in which there was regular consultation on political and diplomatic matters; in which each was pledged to help the others in case of danger; in which sea and air transport and the telepgraph, telephone and radio networks were co-ordinated; in which every citizen, whenever he came from and wherever he went, knew and felt himself, far from being a stranger, to be welcome, esteemed, and to large extent at home. In order that these new relationships should be sealed at the summit and should accord with what was for me a duty, an honor and a pleasure, I maintained friendly personal relations with the Heads of State. A general secretariat for the Community, and later for Africa and Malagasy Affairs, headed successively by Raymond Jannot and Jacques Foccart, was the working body, the organ of liaison with the government."
Charles de Gaulle, Memoirs of Hope: Renewal and Endeavor, p. 67.

"Africa is a real opportunity for France. It broadens both our horizon and our ambition on the international scene. It is true in the diplomatic, economic and cultural context". Domininque de Villepan, 18 June 2003.

Until Anno Domini 1960, France possessed a huge African colonial empire. One, which in the aftermath of the debacles of 1870, 1940 and 1954, were in many ways seen as a necessary prerequisite of its status as an European and 'world' Great Power. With the 'winds of change' taking hold of the dark continent, France's formal Empire was no more, however, with the end of the de jure Empire, what came to replace it, was a de facto Empire. Called 'Francafrique', it meant that under the cloak of nominal independence, a good number of former French colonies were under the thumbs functionaire's such as 'Mr. Afrique', Jacques Foccart. Relying for the most part on economic and military assistance, France's unique role, under Francafrique, was at times backed up with brute force, when one of its charges grew too unruly for Paris' liking. With a series of coup d'etats, beginning in 1964 in Gabon, and running up to the mid-1990's, France was quite willing to use troops to intervene to 'balance'out the forces of the contending sides, with an assurance that in the end 'French interests', as so defined by whoever was running Africa policy in the Palais de L'Elysee (Foccart in the 1960's and 1970's, Mitterand Fils in the 1980's, et cetera), would prevail (see two articles by Dominique Moisi in the periodical Foreign Affairs: "France's new foreign policy" [1981] and "French Foreign Policy" [1988], for an acute discussion of France's traditional role in Africa at that time).

However, with the end of the Cold War, and, with light slowly being spread onto the shadowy world of the Afrique hands, in the Elysee and the Quai D'Orsay, many have contended that the days of France as the 'Gendarme of Africa' are over for good. Even in the area of economic assistance, in which for many years, France tended to outshine any other power, it now has to contend with China's new found and overt interest in, and, demand for, raw materials belonging to the dark continent. To back up which, Peking has sharply raised both its economic assistance and, heavily invested in a good number of different countries on the continent. Indeed the PRC, has become Africa's third largest trading partner, after the United States and France. With its total trade rising five times, in the space of six years (from ten billion dollars to fifty billion, see: "Upcoming Summit Highlights Africa's Importance to China", 3 November 2006 in And, unlike even Chirac's France, the PRC, is quite able to engage in diplomatic and economic ties with regime's such as the Sudan, which by most Western standards, have serious and fundamental human rights problems. Previously of course, France had no compunction in dealing with unsavory characters like the ill-fated 'Emperor Boukassa' of the Central African Republic, as well as the blood tangled regime of Rwanda in the mid-1990's. Times have indeed changed...

In a view of assisting us to see both elements of continuity and discontinuity of French African policy, that we introduce portions of a study for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, by Sylvain Touati, a French academic, currently on attachment to the French Foreign Ministry. Titled "French Foreign Policy in Africa", it examines from multiple perspectives: economic, cultural, strategic and military, France's current position in the continent, and, future prospects for the same. Perhaps its most pertinent and surprising observations are that:

"France no longer wants to dominate in countries such as Chad or the Central African Republic, and is looking for burden-sharing when it comes to peacekeeping and peace support operations. The paradox is t hat although France wishes to encourage others to engage with it in French-speaking Africa, there remains little international appetite to assist".


"French private companies do not seem interested by potential African markets. In the last 15 years, French business investment has declined and even in countries as strategic as Nigeria, French political, intellectual and business interest is surprisingly thin. With...the formerly ubiquitous, traditional French neo-colonial business systems have been displaced".

Which perhaps makes his emphasis on the continuing malevolence of old Francafrique networks in the Palais de L'Elysee less than logical. Indeed, as he himself notes, neither of the two leading contenders for the French Presidency to suceed Chirac, Sarkozy or Royal, have much interest in, nor need for, Africa as a stage to exercise France's great power prerogatives. So, perhaps the days of 'la Francafrique' are indeed truly over. Notwithstanding this small caveat, I urge you to read and enjoy the following excerpts from Monsieur Touati's paper.


By Sylvain Touati


"France’s monopoly of Africa is under threat. The last 50 years have seen the French battling to hold on to the ‘privileged relationship’ with their former colonial empire, and a number of factors have forced the once imperial power into redefining its affiliation with ex-colonies, such as new laws on aid distribution, the integration of the EU and modern economic reforms.

In the post-Cold War era, ‘multilateralism’ has become the latest political buzzword, and in its wake a notable shift in French policy in Africa has emerged. This shift,combined with a new generation of French politicians claiming to herald a fresh approach, might suggest that changes are on the way.

As this paper will discuss, however, France has been reluctant to adapt. Certain members of the French elite have benefited from neo-colonial models and are in no hurry to normalise dealings; it’s instructive, therefore, to examine what adjustments have come out of multilateralism and if a new class of politicians really can bring
about change.


To understand why a fresh approach is needed, it’s important to explore how France’s African policies have evolved over the last 50 years. At the end of the Second World War, one of the reasons France was able to claim a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council was its colonial empire. With African independence this position could have been threatened, thus France developed a neo-colonial strategy towards its former colonies. At the moment of official decolonisation in 1960, General De Gaulle offered, and in some ways imposed, a package that tied France to the new states: newly established African regimes were to remain under Paris’s protection. France would provide technical, military and financial assistance; in return the countries involved would back France’s international policies. As a result, all subsequent leaders have had a vested interest in the continent. As the head of state and army chief, the French president has the privilege of conducting foreign affairs. For a leader wanting international recognition, where better to begin than in Africa, where France holds such considerable influence?

French policies toward Africa are inevitably determined by the president’s personal inclinations towards the continent. Jacques Chirac, like his predecessor François Mitterrand, sees Africa as fertile ground – a way to make his mark.However,implementing many of his ideas has not been easy. For a large part of his term,Chirac was unable to impose his stance due to power-sharing with a socialist government. The concept of power-sharing or ‘cohabitation’ arose in 1986, and is a recurrent political phenomenon in France. As President Chirac discovered, it alters the way foreign policy is introduced. Constitutionally, it is the president who has the final say in diplomacy and defence issues, but it is the prime minister who nominates the ministers in charge of implementing the decisions. By selecting the foreign and finance ministers, the prime minister can effectively relegate the president to a secondary role.

This combination of influences can have a significant impact on French foreign policy-making, particularly when interests conflict. Because a consensus is required,important decisions are made by the lowest common denominator. In African affairs this has affected the CFA franc’s devaluation, the Rwandan disaster,8 and, during President Chirac’s term, the 1999 Côte d’Ivoire crisis. Since 2002, however, President Chirac has been free to institute his own policy ideas. In 2003, he used the word ‘partnership’ to describe this new orientation, which was to replace the system of ‘assistance’, and in the same speech he also renewed the concept of democratic conditionality.11 Of further significance was the promise to continue with a multilateral approach whereby France gives its support to. Since 1986 France has experienced three periods of power-sharing between socialists and conservatives: 1986-8 (Mitterrand/Chirac), 1993-5 (Mitterrand/Balladur), and 1997-2002 (Chirac/Jospin)....


As previously mentioned, the end of the Cold War changed the international context and, consequently, France’s involvement with ex-colonies. Its pré carré in Africa is now under threat from other powers, most notably the United States and China.Interest from these nations means that France has to rethink its policies in the region, although its attitude is ambivalent and developing a new strategy has been difficult. Although French diplomats and politicians have tried to moderate François Mitterrand’s declaration at La Baule. African commentators and political adversaries welcomed the shift in French foreign policy. It is difficult to estimate France’s real involvement in democratic transition. because Paris has continued to back some dictators without sanctions, and has also not ‘rewarded’ some countries already involved in democratic transition. Under the pretext of respecting nations’ sovereignties, French policy does not lay out democratic standards for the whole continent. There is no defined democratic agenda for the different African states; instead the responsibility lies within each individual nation. However, French intervention or non-intervention in Africa during the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s cannot be summarised in arguments about democratic conditionality.

France was the African gendarme during the Cold War – at which time the United States agreed to let France dominate French-speaking countries, but it now prefers to be likened to a ‘fire-fighter’. Recent events in Chad and the Central African Republic can be seen to illustrate this position. However, French leaders have had huge difficulties in adapting to the post-Cold War context and this deficiency in leadership is underlined by the lack of an overall plan. To maintain its status as a world power, France cannot accept volatility in its area of influence, therefore the need to retain stability in some regions has led to a tolerance, and even support, of
dictatorships and their leaders. Paris knows its bilateral military interventions in Africa have proved controversial, and examples such as the CFA currency devaluation, Rwanda crisis, and support of old dictators can all be cited as evidence of this controversy. As French public opinion now refuses to tolerate such actions in the post-Cold war context, the army has had to face up to the challenge of modernisation. Around 7,000 troops are present in Africa on a permanent basis; in Djibouti (2,800 troops), Dakar (1,100), Abidjan (1,000), Libreville (800) and N’djamena (1,000). This military presence has always been evidence of Paris’s engagement in Africa. As previously mentioned, France is implicated by bilateral military relations and Paris also has defence treaties with seven states and military cooperation agreements with twenty-five. These include secret clauses.

The Rwandan conflict significantly affected France’s credibility in Africa. In 1995, on the orders of Jacques Chirac, the French army developed a new strategic approach. accepted the delegation of peacekeeping operations to African organisations such as the African Union. With the joint exercise ‘RECAMP’, the French army helped to train potential African troops to be incorporated in UN peacekeeping’s operations.Recent French interventions seem to corroborate this multilateral policy. For example, UN mandates have been allowed in Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Plans for a general redeployment of troops are being drawn up. To assure a more efficient multilateral approach, France will keep only one military base for each strategic region in Africa, corresponding to the four African regional organisations: Dakar for ECOWAS, Libreville for ECCAS, Djibouti for EAC and Reunion Island for SADC. Nonetheless, France’s military and political activity still does not have a set standard....

The survival of the ‘Françafrique’

With colonisation and 50 years of influence in Africa, a network has been created between French and African elites: ‘la Françafrique’. French policy-making is developed within this special network consisting of politicians, state officials, military officers, heads of oil and weapons firms and members of the African elite. It is a grey zone of diplomacy (such as Foccart period,African Elysée’s cell) and the interests of populations are rarely included in the decisions. Riddled with corruption, the groups have now become infamous, most notably for sealing deals to enable the cheap trade of raw materials. Furthermore, France’s support for numerous dictators, coups and rebellions during the Cold War years can be attributed to its involvement in the Françafrique....

One of the difficulties of this network is the lack of representation for the continent’s youths. Africa’s population has increased dramatically without sufficient development to integrate the new generations into society. Young adults represent two-thirds of the population, leading to a marginalisation of African elites and a swell of young people wanting to change the system. The Algerian civil war (1992-9) provides the international community with an example of what can happen when a young, excluded population takes refuge in extremism. Hatred of corrupt regimes, unemployment, and crisis of values are generally used as an explanation. Similar social and political factors are currently present in sub-Saharan Africa.Another challenge to the Françafrique is the booming international commodity and investment market. To obtain international funds, African states have to respect the IMF criteria of free competition. Consequently, Anglo-Saxon, Chinese and European companies have developed their own direct contacts with African states. And the competition is now fierce.


France has to face up to its new competitors. Increases in global growth, political instability among oil producers and the rise of prices on the oil market have enhanced interest in African potential. Key economic rivals include the Chinese and Anglo-Saxon firms based in francophone Africa, at one time France’s key area of influence. Exacerbating the situation is the current turbulent climate in the Middle East, as major oil importers are looking to Africa to diversify their sources. However, French private companies do not seem interested by potential African markets. In the last 15 years, French business investment has declined and even in countries as strategic as Nigeria, French political, intellectual and business interest is surprisingly thin. With the structural adjustment plans from the IMF and the fall of raw material markets during the 1980s and ‘90s, the formerly ubiquitous, traditional French neo-colonial business systems have been displaced. The French also took little part in the recent ‘jump’ in foreign direct investment (‘FDI’) in sub-Saharan Africa: France is classified in fourth position with 4% of the stock of ‘FDI’, as compared with 13% for the United Kingdom, 8% for the United States, and 5% for the Netherlands. Leading French companies have adapted their strategies and focused their interests mostly on two economic sectors: oil and telecommunications. These developments are a threat to France’s position in Africa.

Three reasons explain this lack of interest. First of all, very few French groups still have an African strategy. In world competition, sub-Saharan Africa is characterised by its limited markets, with a gross domestic product of some €248 billion. Secondly, the opening of the continent to an economic liberal system under the influence of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has encouraged a ‘standardisation’ of French dealings. Previously, French capitalism could thrive quietly because it had been protected from external competition by its monopolistic positions and its close links with the political world. Nowadays the French must face competition, in particular from Chinese groups. The French economic redeployment can also be explained by the chronic instability and political hostility France finds in former strategic partners such as Côte d'Ivoire and Rwanda....


As mentioned in Sections 1 and 2, Franco-African relationships are in part driven by personal connections between the executive heads. This interdependence has until now been inherited from the colonial past. But the arrival of a new political class could end this. In theory, the 2007 French presidential elections signal the potential for change because they bring to an end a generation of politicians born during colonization; in practice, the interest of the new leadership contenders is highly debatable.

Even if there is a repeat of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s surprise entry into the second round in 2002, the two main parties in France will still be the ‘UMP’ (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) and the Parti Socialiste. As the presidential battle begins in Paris, Ségolène Royal has been chosen to represent the Parti Socialiste and Sarkozy was nominated for the ‘UMP’ in January 2007. Sarkozy is the current home minister and the UMP’s first secretary. Royal, on the other hand, seems to have gained favour thanks to a powerful media campaign. Neither of the would-be presidents have wasted any time in presenting the media with photo opportunities meant to herald a fresh approach. When tough-talking Sarkozy visited Mali and Benin in 2006, he attacked Jacques Chirac’s Françafrique policy and called for ‘new relations’ between France and Africa; in Mali he stated that “economically, France no longer needs Africa.” Meanwhile, Royal, eager to play up her African roots, chose to visit Senegal, the country of her birth. These two adversaries are keen to depict themselves as ‘whiter than white’ politicians who would like to change the French system in the continent; it is interesting to note, however, that both their political circles have been implicated in Françafrique networks.

Nicolas Sarkozy

At the beginning of his career, Nicolas Sarkozy was mentored by Charles Pasqua. Following in Pasqua’s footsteps, Sarkozy was the head of the Hauts de Seine department and now leads the Home Office. Pasqua had a major part in defining the policy towards Africa from the 1970s to the 1990s when he led one of the most important Françafrique networks. However, when Sarkozy visited Mali and Benin in May, then Senegal in September, he attempted to create some distance by attacking Chirac’s Françafrique policy and denouncing the networks. It is interesting to note Sarokzy’s decision to visit Mali and Benin, two of the most democratic Francophone states, a move which sends a clear message to African dictators. Additionally, Sarkozy’s speeches can be taken as an indication but not ‘proof’ of his new approach. However they must be read carefully, and in context. The current interior minister is determined to distance himself from Jacques Chirac. The rivalry between the two is well documented. Sarkozy wants to build the image of himself as a new type of French politician, even though he has been politically active for almost 30 years. In Benin and Senegal he outlined a new immigration policy, calling for a selection process based on the need of the French employment market. This policy received widespread opposition from local MPs; therefore, in order to silence critics, he has reinforced an already existing co-development initiative.

Ségolène Royal

The African aspirations of Ségolène Royal are more difficult to establish. Only recently under the spotlight, she is known for her views on family and environment, but little else. Critics point to her inexperience as a grave weakness, and there is no information regarding her economic and foreign aspirations; indeed, with the exception of for her birth in Dakar in 1953, she seems largely to have avoided involvement with the African continent. Her only notable contributions to the African debate are a solar energy pledge and a speech about co-development in Dakar; this speech centred on France’s regional aid-giving system, and featured Royal calling for more fundraising to increase the amount sent to places like Dakar. Royal’s political background betrays very little. Her mentor was Jacques Attali who included her in the François Mitterrand circle during the 1980s. Royal, however, was not in charge of foreign affairs and did not seem to mingle with the socialist Françafrique. As a result, she could well find herself in the same situation as Lionel Jospin; in 1997, Jospin wanted to shift French foreign policy toward Africa but he faced opposition from Jacques Chirac’s circles as well as the socialist networks founded during the presidencies of François Mitterrand.


Both candidates claim to have a fresh approach in relation to African issues, but the experiences of Edouard Balladur, Alain Juppé, Lionel Jospin and Dominique de Villepin have proved that such claims are not enough to change neo-colonial links. The reality is that neither Sarkozy nor Royal have drawn up any concrete proposals likely to change current policies. Public relations exercises in West Africa are one thing, but well-defined, workable policies are quite another.


Mistakes in Africa during the 1990s, particularly in Rwanda and the corruption scandals of the Françafrique, have put pressure on French leaders to bring dramatic changes in foreign policy, as have modern economic reforms and the adoption of the‘multilateral’ strategies. There is no doubt that French relations with Africa are in a transitional period, especially signified by Jacques Chirac, who started important reforms such as military redeployment and aid reforms. However he has been unable to integrate them into a more concrete vision which could have thwarted prohibitive neo-colonial links. Moreover, African, or, more generally, international politics do not seem to be a priority for the 2007 presidential candidates. Royal generally appears disinterested in African policies and Sarkozy’s interest is in the context of illegal immigration. They are focusing on domestic issues. The stark truth is that without strong political will or defined argument, any future president is unlikely to curb the strength of lobby groups and old networks."

Sylvain Touati has an MA in African History from the Sorbonne University in Paris and an MA in International Relations and Geopolitics from the Politics School of Toulouse. He researched this paper while working for the Africa Programme at Chatham House in 2006. He is currently on attachment to the French Embassy in Bamako.


Post a Comment

<< Home