President François Hollande has said the days of French meddling in its former African colonies are over. So why, with French troops already leading the fight against jihadists in Mali, is he prepared to risk another military intervention?
France hasn’t finished the job in Mali, yet it’s edging towards military intervention in another former African colony. Earlier this year, it took on jihadists in northern Mali. Now it’s readying for militias in the Central African Republic (CAR) whom Paris says could trigger a genocide.
That word hangs heavy over French policy in Africa.
In the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Paris was accused of supporting the Hutu regime that massacred the Tutsis. France has always denied this, but President Nicolas Sarkozy did concede in 2010 that “mistakes were made.” In any case, France does not want to be accused of looking the other way as Muslims and Christians tear each other apart in the CAR.
France may also feel indebted to its former possessions as it prepares to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, a conflict in which colonial troops suffered huge losses. In 1914, France called upon its African territories to help with the war effort; now Bangui is asking Paris to help avert a meltdown.
But strategic considerations are surely just as important. The CAR has been chronically unstable for decades. The supposedly disbanded Séléka rebels are not the only ones taking advantage of the power vacuum; Joseph Kony, the notorious Ugandan warlord, has taken refuge in the southeastern corner of the CAR. The fear in Paris must be that bandits and militants operating out of the CAR will end up destabilising neighbours such as Chad, where France also has long-term business and strategic interests.
As Paris prepares to host a summit on African security later this week, people will undoubtedly ask why France appears to be taking the lead instead of African nations. Some may accuse President François Hollande of perpetuating “La Françafrique” – essentially, meddling in its former colonies. But considering that Bangui and Bamako asked France for help, Paris was damned if it did and damned if it didn’t. Stand aside and be accused of abdicating your responsibilities, or intervene and be accused of interference.
Date created : 2013-12-04