ShareThis Page

France bound by role in Africa

| Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 6:54 p.m.

PARIS — France is coming to the rescue again, deploying soldiers in a former African colony to help stave off catastrophe — dirty work that Paris says it doesn't really want. France has its eyes on a dynamic new Africa that is producing jobs, not conflicts.

But the image of France as the gendarme of Africa is hard to erase. French troops deployed to deal with the deadly chaos in Central African Republic just as about 40 leaders from Africa, including the republic's transitional prime minister, met in Paris on Friday and Saturday.

The summit made progress toward establishing a French-trained African rapid reaction force to enable the continent to meet its own security needs — while allowing France to maintain ties to the region that may pay off economically in the longer term.

France's idea of itself as a one-time colonial master cannot be easily shaken. The French empire unraveled in the 1960s, but a half-century later, African leaders routinely call for help and are not often ignored.

Since 2011, under two presidents from opposing political camps, France has intervened in four African countries: in Ivory Coast, on a joint mission in Libya, in Mali, and now Central African Republic.

In January, France sent in 5,000 troops to Mali to quash al-Qaida and other radicals in the north viewed as a terrorist threat to countries across the region. That dwarfs the mission in Central African Republic, where President Francois Hollande says 1,600 French troops will help about 6,000 African troops secure the nearly lawless country, where sectarian strife has grown after Muslim rebels ousted the president in March.

In both Mali and Central African Republic, Paris obtained African and international backing via the U.N. Security Council. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Saturday that he's “grateful to all the countries contributing with soldiers ... and in particular to France for boosting its military support.”

Yet Hollande does not want France to be the first — and sometimes only — responder in Africa. France tried during several months to not intervene in Central African Republic.

Hollande announced a push to change France's role as savior to assistant at an African Union summit in Ethiopia in May, saying it is Africans who must assure their own security. Many African officials agree on the concept, though details of the plan are still being worked out.

France is pushing for the AU's rapid reaction force to be put in place in coming months and promised at the weekend summit to provide equipment and train up to 20,000 African troops a year.

The United Nations would fund peacekeeping operations once it's fully operational. Until then, Hollande said, the European Union should pitch in money “because the two continents are linked.”

Hollande is not the first president to try to disassemble a heavy heritage or profit from a continent whose image is changing from one of endless conflict to a burgeoning hub for investment.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.