An increasing number of countries in Africa are cutting long-standing security ties with France out of disappointment with Paris’ handling of issues important to the continent.
In a nutshell
- France’s influence in Africa is waning
- Paris has made crucial diplomatic mistakes
- A new African policy would benefit both sides
In 2022, Africa turned its back on France. African countries have cut long-standing ties with Paris, turning instead toward the British-led Commonwealth. Local populations held protests demanding the departure of French troops and clamoring for Russian Wagner commandos instead.
In parallel, other world powers are attempting to increase their influence on the African continent. Turkey is mobilizing to carry out infrastructure work at very competitive prices. Turkish companies built the new airport in Dakar. China is investing in most African countries via financial institutions created for this purpose, in particular the Exim Bank and the China Development Bank. Brazil, India, Pakistan and Pakistan are also looking to build closer economic ties.
France has lost the privileged relationships it enjoyed 30 year ago. This is a result of movement and trade liberalization, but also the outcome of clumsiness and serious mistakes on the part of the French authorities – for example, ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s disastrous 2007 speech in which he declared that “the African has not fully entered into history.’’
Recenty, President Emmanuel Macron was forced to discuss the future of Africa with students and associations in Montpellier rather than with African heads of states. For many years, the Africa-France summits had been the traditional platform on which all French-speaking Africa’s presidents met with their French counterparts. These meetings were a place where people could build relationships, discuss pressing issues, and find solutions. These meetings are no longer privileged.
Even countries considered allies of France are beginning to question their position.
The 2011 Arab Spring was marred by the intervention in Libya that former President Sarkozy, against the advice and support of African leaders, orchestrated. This resulted in the overthrowing and death of Muammar Qaddafi. The upheaval created chaos in Libya. Qaddafi mobilized Tuareg soldiers and they returned to the Sahel region to join jihadist or rebel movements.
It was also a mistake for Louise Mushikiwabo to be elected Secretary General of the International Organization of the Francophonie. Rwanda has abandoned French as its first language and joined the Commonwealth. Since then, it has been conducting a relentless propaganda campaign to discredit the French army for over 20 years.
Facts & figures
Unfortunately, this succession of errors has gradually created a climate of mistrust and even violent ruptures between France and French-speaking African countries. The Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali have requested the departure of the French ambassador and French troops – troops that had been called in to help and who fought and died to contain the jihadist threat. Bangui and Bamako turned to Russia, welcoming Wagner commandos on their territory. They now provide security for government authorities, certain localities or provinces and are paid through the exploitation of mines, notably gold in Mali and diamonds and uranium in CAR.
Even countries that still consider France an ally are starting to doubt their loyalty. Togo and Gabon joined Commonwealth last July. Niger, Chad and Chad have paid a high price for Libya’s implosion. Local politics are being destabilized by the infiltration of militias and armed groups from Libya.
Worse, allies like the United Kingdom or the United States intervened in France-speaking countries a few years back, often after consulting with Paris. France and the Anglo Saxon countries have been growing apart since the war in Rwanda and the violence in Kivu (DRC), which is a rich province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Washington and London continue to suggest that France was complicit with the genocide in Rwanda.
France is witnessing a number of voices trying to shed light on the situation in this region. The war is raging over the exploitation and extraction of critical raw materials like coltan or cobalt. There are many human beings, including children and women, being trafficked with impunity to the greatest advantage of Anglo-American, Canadian, and South African financial and mining corporations.
It is urgent for France to rethink its African policy.
These metals are essential to produce semiconductors, cell phone and communication networks, as well as military systems or missiles. The economic stakes for this issue are very high. The U.S., which is closely tied to the Rwandan, Ugandan governments, was involved to the point that it signed, during the first Kivu War, the secret Lemera agreements. Laurent Kabila, who later revealed this, helped to create an American-Rwandan company to regulate, or even control, the trade of rare metals.
France needs to rethink its African policy. Paris’ friendship and relationship with Africa over the years, as well as its political, economic, and thought leaders, justifies doing everything to create new cooperation in all areas: culture, education, health and pharmaceuticals, energy and mining, agriculture and food industry, transportation and infrastructure.
This new policy must not allow itself to be guided and stifled by Brussels’ technocratic approach. France must reinvest in OIF and assist the organization in coordination all cultural and educational interventions within the French-speaking world. This requires a political approach once the goals have been established: universities, education and book policy. Support for the film industry is also required. The OIF must not be reduced to a bureaucratic organization or worse, to a Trojan Horse. OIF matters should be handled at the ministerial level by governments. And the organization’s council ought to be composed of presidents or heads of government instead of administrators only.
France must be bold enough to tackle the issue of migration with all French-speaking African countries. France must have special relations with these countries that will result in a visa policy that welcomes migrants from Africa for certain purposes, such as training or employment.
France’s Africa policy must once again become rooted in cultural influence, loyalty and first and foremost, shared history.