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Africa and France

Hollande's Franco-African farewell

This weekend President Hollande attends his last Africa-France summit. On taking office, he pledged to break with 'Francafrique' but almost five years later the French footprint in Africa appears undiminished.

Some 10,000 security personnel have been seconded to the Malian capital Bamako for the 27th Africa-France summit and they are backed up by the Malian army and French troops.

Mali is a tense country. "Clearly, with such a large number of high-ranking guests, security is paramount," Cheickna Hamala Diarra from the Bamako-based summit organizing committee told DW.

This weekend Bamako plays host to French President Francois Hollande and more than 30 African heads of state and their respective delegations. A total of 3,000 delegates are expected to attend the biennial meeting.

Operation Serval

It will be an opportunity for Hollande to bid farewell to his African counterparts as this will be his last Africa-France summit. The French leader steps down later in the year; he will not seek a second term at the presidential elections in the spring.

This summit towards the end of his five-year term sees his return to a country which had a decisive impact on French foreign policy during his tenure. In January 2013, France's military launched Operation Serval against jihadists in Mali.

In December of the same year, France embarked on a military campaign in Central African Republic (CAR), which was teetering on the brink of civil war in the wake of a coup. That French military campaign is now over.

French President Francois Hollande with new Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako

Francois Hollande at the inauguration of the new Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako in September 2013

Operation Serval has since been replaced by Operation Barkhane, a broader offensive against Islamist groups with some 3,000 French soldiers deployed in five African countries.

Gabon-based political scientist Ndoutoume Ngom told DW he views Hollande's policy towards Africa in a positive light. "He stopped Mali from disintegrating. CAR was also stabilized somewhat through the French military intervention," he said.

Other analysts are rather more critical. Roland Marchal from France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) finds it "disconcerting" that French foreign policy under Hollande placed so much emphasis on military intervention. "Nobody questions whether these military operations are justified," he said. "In the case of Mali, we see that it hasn't worked." The standard of governance is worse than mediocre and the president is facing corruption allegations.

Policy inconsistencies 

German observers share this skepticism. Stefan Brüne researches French policy on Africa at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin. He also says that Mali's political problems haven't been resolved yet. "By cooperating with Chadian special forces, the French military were able to take up positions quickly and effectively. But this wasn't accompanied by a long-term strategy geared to the politics and culture of the country," Brüne told DW. He also says French policy on Africa under Hollande was full of inconsistencies. "When he took office, he announced he would be breaking with the practice of 'Francafrique." This hasn't happened. 'Francafrique' refers to that cosy and sometimes uncritical relationship France has with its former colonies.

Französischer Militäreinsatz in Mali (Reuters)

'Hollande - the Liberator' trumpets a newspaper headline as French troops advanced on a town in central Mali in 2013

When Chad's authoritarian ruler Idriss Deby - in power for 25 years - launched a tough crackdown on protestors and banned demonstrations before his re-election, there were no words of condemnation from France. The West needs the assistance of the Chadian army in the struggle against Boko Haram and other jihadists in West Africa.  When Gabon's controversial president Ali Bongo Ondimba was re-elected in 2016 amid opposition allegations of electoral fraud, France refrained from becoming overly involved. Gabon is a former French colony which is rich in uranium ore and traditionally maintains excellent ties with France.

Brüne says French policy on Africa has barely changed under Hollande. The German analyst also doesn't expect anything different from his successor. France sees itself as an independent, global, nuclear power. "One needs raw materials and has to nurture good relations with countries that possess uranium ore, for instance," he said.

Eric Topona and Sidiki Doumbia contributed to this report.            

 

 

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