The Dynamics and the Roots of the France’s Security Policy Towards Africa

Dr. Abdurrahim Sıradag*

France has “special” economic and political relations with Francophone African countries, dating back to the 19th century, and retains its military bases in Gabon, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Djibouti, and the Central African Republic. France’s security policy towards Africa has changed according to its economic, political and strategic interests. It has been linked with the concepts of change and continuity. For instance, during the apartheid regime, the French government strengthened its economic and political relations with South Africa and opposed the UN’s embargos of the pariah state, even encouraging Francophone African countries to increase their economic and political relations with it.

Additionally, France’s international power and position has also shaped its security policy towards Africa, seeing it become a member of the Group of Eight (G8) and one of the largest economic powers in the world. It is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and at the same time has been playing a significant role in European integration. Significantly, it is a nuclear power and a member of various security organisations, for instance NATO and the OSCE. Approximately 240,000 French citizens live in different countries of Africa, where French companies operate, such as Total, Areva, Accor, Bolloré, Bouygues, and Elf Aquitaine. In turn, Africa provides raw materials, such as uranium, natural gas and oil to France, which is still highly dependent on these for its technological industries. France also has special agreements with many African countries in the fields of defence and military power. France is the largest trading partner for the African countries within the EU members. When France’s exports to Africa in 2007 were 30,393 million dollars, its exports to Africa in 2008 increased to 36,878 million dollars. As shown in Table 3, France’s economic relations have significantly grown each year.

Nevertheless, the global economic crisis of 2007 has had a negative impact on the growth of France’s economic relations with Africa, with both exports and imports falling. France’s exports to Africa in 2009 were €17.163 million and its imports to Africa were €14.312 million. France’s economic relations have relatively started to increase in 2010, with its exports to Africa increasing to €19.516 million and imports to €16.452 million. France was also the largest of the EU’s exporters to Africa, with €20 billion in 2010.

According to Hansen and Martin, the main aims of France’s security policy towards Africa are to protect French economic and political interests and citizens and provide intelligence for the French government. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the collapse of the authoritarian regime in the DRC, formerly Zaire, in 1997 weakened France’s security policy towards Africa. New developments in Africa forced French policymakers to re-define security policy in Africa, particularly after the Cold War. The bipolar international system in world politics and spread of communism in Francophone African countries had been the main threat for the French interests during this era, leading France to increase its social, economic, and political relations with former colonial states in Africa against the threat of the Soviet Union.

After the Cold War, the concept of security has appeared to change, and now includes the new threats, such as immigration issues, climate change, international terrorism, conflicts, and the emerging global actors in Africa. Particularly, conflicts and wars in Africa began to threaten regional stability and especially France’s economic interests after the 1990s, as democratic movements emerged. A new political rivalry between France and the USA arose in Africa after the end of the Cold war. Wary of what it perceived as imperial ambitions of the USA, France saw these new developments in Africa as a threat to its economic and political interests.8
Financial aid programmes are also seen as a momentous component of France’s security policy towards Africa, for instance strengthening the authoritarian regime of President Paul Biye in Cameron in 1992 with a pledge of 436 million dollars of aid. After the 1990s, France also started to support the concepts of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, due to its changing interests in Africa and in the world.9 In recent years, France has claimed that the UN Security Council should include one African country to reflect and support the continent’s interests precisely. However, its support for Africa at the UN Security Council remains somewhat rhetorical.
The emergence of the regional and sub-regional organisations in Africa also affected France’s security policy. For example, France was opposed to the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)10 created by the Treaty of Lagos, in 1975, the aims of which were to reinforce economic relations amongst the members, to create an economic integration in western Africa and to create a common security system. At the same time, it included a peacekeeping force, and in 1995 ECOWAS played a critical role in stopping the Liberian civil war. France established its own security institution, known as the Reinforcement of African Peacekeeping Capacities (RECAMP) programme in 1998. RECAMP included Francophone African countries, the USA, the UK, Belgium, and five Anglophone countries. France’s economic and political relations with Africa have influenced its institutional relations with the continent. Meanwhile, the establishment of the RECAMP also shows that France is pursing its own individual security policy in Africa.
Furthermore, the current economic crises also influenced France’s security strategy in Africa, causing France to close down two military bases in Central Africa.11 France also plays a large role in the international organisations, including in the UN and the EU, to keep its strategic influence in Africa. For example, it took a leading role in the EU peacekeeping force, which is the Artemis Operation, in the DRC in 2003, and has made a major contribution to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa.
Since the post-independence era in Africa, France has institutionalised its relations with African states, and has organised Franco-African summits since 1973, in order to strengthen its social, economic, and political relations with Africa. The 25th took place in Nice between the 31st of May and the 1st of June 2010, in which France underlined that establishing a strategic partnership based on equality, solidarity and mutual respect was necessary for combating the common threats facing both continents and enhancing their interests. Importantly, France agreed to strengthen Africa’s security system through regional and sub-regional organisations, and in so doing pledged €300 million between 2010 and 2012 to African states and organisations. It also agreed to train 12,000 African troops to reinforce African peacekeeping operations in that time. Meanwhile, the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, in his opening speech, argued that the spread of liberal concepts, such as human rights, democracy, and the rule of law was essential for the maintenance of peace, security, and stability in Africa. It seems that France is changing its relations with Africa according to global developments and its political and economic interests.
After 2000, France began to play a more active role in African politics and supported liberal principles, starting to put more pressure on its former colonial African states to show respect for liberal ideals. There are three important factors affecting France’s new foreign and security policy towards Africa. First, conflicts and wars directly damage France’s economic and political interests in Africa. Second, the new emerging actors such as India, Brazil, China and Turkey have begun to establish new strategic partnerships and increase their economic and political relations with African states and organisations. Third, dictatorial regimes have begun to lose their power in African states over the last decade.
It is important to note that France is playing the greatest role in developing security cooperation between Africa and the EU. For example, it took a leading role in establishing the African Peace Facility in 2004 to cement African organisations’ security structures. Moreover, France played a leading role in an EU peacekeeping operation in Africa in 2003, named Artemis Operation in the DRC and in the recent conflict in Mali. France is reinforcing its international position and also protecting its increasing economic interests. In particular, its economic relations have been increased with Africa, as shown in Table 1 (above).
Even though France’s security policy towards Africa has changed since 2000, due to its changing economic and international interests in Africa and in the world, it still does not take into consideration internal challenges of Africa, nor focus on resolving the continent’s structural, economic or political problems. However, these threats of the new millennium have led French policymakers to recognise that security cooperation with Africa is the best way to protect France’s economic and political interests. PR
* Dr. Abdurrahman Sıradag is an Assistant Professor at the International University of Sarajevo.
1. Renou, X. (2002). A new French policy for Africa. Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 20(1):5-27, pp. 5-8.
2. See the detailed report for France’s economic relations with Africa published by EUROSTAT, Revival of EU 27 trade in goods with Africa, STAT/10/178, 26 November 2010.
3. Ibid., pg. 1.
4. Ibid., pp. 1-2.
5. Hansen, A. (2008). The French military in Africa. Washington, D.C.: Council on Foreign Relations, pg.1.
6. Martin, G. (1995). Continuity and change in Franco-African relations. Journal of Modern African Studies, 33(1):1-20, pp. 9-14.
7. Renou, X. (2002). A new French policy for Africa. Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 20(1):5-27, pp. 11.13.
8. Ibid., pp.11-3.
9. Ogunmola, D. (2009). Redesigning cooperation: the eschatology of Franco-African Relations. Journal of Social Sciences, 19(3):233-242, pp.234-8.
10. Renou, X. (2002). A new French policy for Africa. Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 20(1):5-27, pp.19-22.
11. Mehler, A. (2008). France in search of a new Africa policy: an overhaul of French policy is long overdue. Berlin: German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), pp. 28-33.

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