France has taken military action on the African continent dozens of times during the past 50 years since its former colonies became independent states.
Operation Servale earlier this year in Mali and the current mission Sangaris in the Central African Republic (CAR) is stirring the debate as to whether France has fully let go of its paternalistic role.
Muslim rebels overthrew the Christian-led government in March in the CAR. Since then, the country has descended into chaos, with at least 500 people killed in Bangui this month. The violence prompted France to deploy 1,600 troops under a United Nations Security Council resolution.
“For advocates of African solutions, who believe in a sort of African renaissance, the fact that once again, the former colonial power is called to the front line is difficult to bear,” international relations expert focusing on the Gulf of Guinea, Julie Owono stated in an email.
“The reality is that something had to be done, as nobody else from the International Community wanted to make the decision.”
Owono said the European Union should get more involved because almost 50 percent of its oil supply comes from the Gulf of Guinea, a region very close to CAR.
“For the sake of EU’s energy security, France should not be anymore the only Western power to take charge when it comes to that region of Africa.”
On Tuesday, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, said that other European nations will soon deploy troops to the country. Fabius did not specify which specific countries would deploy troops or when exactly.
But France’s paternalistic standpoint is still apparent. Although French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said last week that France isn’t acting like the cop of Africa, President François Hollande harshly criticized interim CAR President Michel Djotodia about how the crisis was handled.
The inability of African countries in handling large-scale conflicts has been pointed to as one of the main reasons for France’s continued military involvement in the region.
Earlier this month France hosted the Elysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa in an attempt to find a new framework for defense cooperation between France and Africa.
“The question of institutions and democracy went missing from the discussions in Paris last week, leading [people] to wonder to what extent this new defense cooperation framework will not continue to reinforce regimes whose democratic records are questionable,” said Owono.
France remains one of the few democracies where the decision to deploy troops in foreign conflicts, often in Africa, does not require a vote by Parliament.
“If there were democratic debates and votes before a decision to send troops to intervene in Africa is made, things would be different regarding the relationship between France and its former colonies,” said Owono.
The Future of the Central African Republic
Hollande said that when the disarmament of rebels from Seleka and anti-Balaka militias in the CAR is over, the country should prepare for elections. But some say that might not be the best move.
The “French president’s hint at removing the current former Seleka leadership from office is a bit misguided,” stated Kennedy Ochieng’ Opalo, doctoral candidate in political science at Stanford University, in an email.
“Misguided because most likely such an eventuality will result in a hurried election that will be rigged, thereby sowing the seeds for more instability in the future,” said Opalo.
Opalo suggests that after order is restored, a negotiated settlement between Seleka forces and Bozize and allied forces must happen. Such effort should include a long-term vision of eventual elections.
“The CAR state has been hollowed out and requires a complete overhaul before the country can hold credible elections or even have a semblance of a national government with the capacity to maintain and enforce peace and order,” Opalo added.