Eternal Plight France in Search of a New Africa Policy

By Andreas Mehler

Part 4: Future Choices


There are basically two scenarios for the evolution of French policy toward Africa. Combinations are also possible, but we can ultimately expect these scenarios to mark the boundaries within which France’s Africa policy will unfold under the current administration:

Scenario 1: Continuity through Change

France’s Africa policy will remain interventionist, but there will be a shift in focus. Humanitarian activism and a new values-based emotive approach will become the trademark of France’s security policy, which will be formatively influenced by Foreign Minister Kouchner. It will entail a larger number of shorter peacekeeping missions, a relative loss of importance for local military bases but a strongly militarized Africa strategy. In this scenario, France will maintain its privileged relations with a handful of heads of state (in particular Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, Paul Biya of Cameroon, and Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo), but these relations will become less visible (a scaling down or discontinuation of the Franco-African summit, fewer trips to Africa by leading French representatives). Relations with difficult representatives of the old policy will come under review (Togo, Chad). Paris’s reservations about broader multilateralism will remain intact. France will only superficially involve the European Union in its policy making, as in the past. If necessary, it will bypass the African Union, engaging instead with subregional organizations. France will continue to discretely expect and support preferential treatment of French companies by influential groups and governments.

Scenario 2: Structural Change

President Sarkozy will largely shape foreign policy himself. France will pursue its Africa policy with a less emotive emphasis and a more effective steering of its own interests. In comparison to other continents, Africa will become markedly less important and it will play a subordinate role to domestic policy issues (e.g. immigration). France will need to reconsider who its most important partners are based on clear geostrategic and economic criteria. This will result in enhanced status for both South Africa and Angola. According to this paradigm, additional gradual military disengagement will start with Ivory Coast, where military bases will be shut down upon completion of Opération Licorne. A number of portfolios, including military training in the framework of RECAMP, will be transferred to the European Union. Limited enthusiasm at the EU level will result in funding gaps for this specific program. Greater responsibility for currency policy may also be transferred to the European Union, which will lead to a further devaluation of the CFA franc. Moreover, official policies will provide much less support for French companies and draw on their existing market advantages. And lastly, costly prestige projects, such as the Franco-African summit, will be abandoned. These top-level meetings will be replaced by other channels, such as cooperation between parliaments and technocratic exchanges.

Outlook for a European Africa Policy

At present, many decision-makers around Europe have deep reservations about cooperating more closely with France on African issues. They are uneasy that, as in the past, they will be asked to play the role of a “junior partner” with no say. If humanitarian interventionism à la Kouchner prevails, France will perhaps be able to mobilize sympathy in a broader European public, but not in the corridors of foreign offices and defense ministries. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation with France would be a great deal easier if Paris were finally to undertake an honest assessment of its own Africa policy. France might have an “objective interest” in, say, joining multilateral initiatives and basing its actions on a European perspective instead of pursuing special bilateral relations. However, the outlook would be all the more promising if France looked beyond its trusty German partner and included other European neighbors in a new European Africa policy. This will succeed best if the approach to the “hot potato” issue of immigration is: sustainable (recognition that a certain level of immigration is unavoidable), humane (immigration modalities must not undermine European constitutional standards), feasible (visas should be issued based on transparent criteria and without bureaucratic delays) and cooperative (African governments and, if needed, local territorial bodies must be included in defining migration regulations). Corrections must be made to previous policy in order to reach these objectives. But such reforms stand in opposition to real French interests in Africa, Europe, and an ambitious French president.

Dr. Andreas Mehler is director of the Institute for African Affairs at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies.


1) Not only the forces prépositionnées, but also other soldiers are deployed abroad (in Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic).

2) The CFA franc is used in 12 African countries formerly ruled by the French. It is also the currency in Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea.

3) See “Le Rapport de la Mission d’information parlementaire sur le Rwanda,“ http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/11/dossiers/Rwanda/r1271.asp.

4) Based on information that the Ivorian government provided AFP, November 24, 2004.

5) From Sarkozy’s speech, “Politique de la France en Afrique,” found at: http://www.u-m-p.org/site/index.php/ump/s_informer/discours/politique_de_la_france_en_afrique_vendredi_19_mai_2006.

6) “La France et l’Afrique: Décoloniser sans s’auto-décoloniser” Le Messager (Douala, Cameroon), September 27, 2005.

7) Sarkozy speech, “Politique de la France en Afrique,” (see fn. 5).

8) Interview in Jeune Afrique, November 5–11, 2006.

9) Sarkozy speech, “Politique de la France en Afrique,” (see fn. 5).

10) Data from Jeune Afrique, March 4–10, 2007.

11) According to Ronja Kempin, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, in an interview with the author on October 25, 2005.

12) Interview in Jeune Afrique, November 5–11, 2006. A similar view was expressed in Le Monde on February 2, 2007.

13) Information from Jeune Afrique, February 11-17, 2007.

14) Sarkozy speech, “Politique de la France en Afrique,” (see fn. 5).

15) Press communiqué, “La responsabilité sociale et environnementale d’Areva est mise en cause par Sherpa, Médecins du Monde et CRIIRAD,” http://www.medecinsdumonde.org.

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