France’s Interest in Africa

For those who haven’t been counting, France is heavily involved in three major interventions. One, Afghanistan, has been occurring for quite some time, but the other two are recent and reveal some interesting insights into France’s foreign policy outlook for the future.

Nicolas Sarkozy has been President of France for nearly four years and has been involved in French politics since 1983. Recently he has seen record low approval numbers in the French political polls. Many believe that the poor popularity Sarkozy has experienced of late has pushed him to seek a more–shall we say–proactive foreign policy approach and hopefully see a rise in popularity. Although it would be nice to say that France’s recent interventions in Libyan and Ivorian (Côte d’Ivoire) affairs come as a result of French domestic politicking, the truth is far more complex.

France was extremely gung-ho on intervening in Libya. French planes even flew the first sorties. So what made France so keen on intervening in Libya? To help answer this question completely it may be best to look at another African intervention, that of the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire).

Côte d’Ivoire is a former French colony that was experiencing political turmoil. Presidential incumbent Laurent Gbagbo lost the elections and refused to step down. After months of pressure from African Union officials and the international community nothing was done. As Mr. Gbagbo’s opponents prepared to militaristically remove Gbagbo from office the French stepped in to offer their support. Much like the Libyan intervention, the French seemed only to be willing to step in if there appeared the potential for significant contributions of the native population.

France’s two most recent interventions in Africa signal something very important. Spheres of influence across the globe are pretty much established in all but the least developed continent on earth. The U.S. and China have shown their interest in being able to influence Africa, China being particularly aggressive in establishing business ventures and diplomatic relations in Africa. The U.S. has been working hard as well to establish a military base for Africom in Africa (rather than Germany, where Africom is currently headquartered), but many states seem to resist the idea of U.S. forces being let into their sovereign territory. France too has an interest in Africa, but unlike China and the U.S., France does have military units stationed in Africa.

In Senegal, French troops have lived peacefully beside the Senegalese for decades, but just two years ago the Senegalese government decided that it wasn’t fond of French troops being in its capital city, so the French had to remove their base in Dakar and reposition many troops, several of them outside of Africa. France does not want to see its influence in Africa disappear to the Chinese or even their allies the Americans. For this reason France has been engaging in military action in both Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. These interventions, if handled correctly (and the Côte d’Ivoire job seemed to be pretty effective in accomplishing its aims) could land the French back in the driver’s seat of outside control over Africa. Response by the Americans and the Chinese remain to be seen, but one should not be surprised to find France intervening again in Africa in the future even if Sarkozy isn’t the President of France.

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