FRENCH FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS AFRICA UNDER FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE: INTERESTS AND DILEMMAS
François Hollande was selected as the new president of France on 6 May 2012. In particular, Mali crisis has been a crucial test for the Socialist French president. French intervention in Mali in January 2013 known "Operation Serval" demonstrated that France has continued to pursue its economic and strategic interests in Africa. It also showed that "continuity" has been one of the most significant foreign policy principles in French policy towards Africa. Hollande made his first official visit in Africa to Dakar, Senegal in October 2012. During his visit, he stressed that democracy, human rights, and the principle of mutual respect will play a critical role in developing relations between Africa and France. According to the French president, geographical proximity, the human factor and economic and energy relations have been the most important factors influencing French policy in Africa (Melly and Darracq, 2013:12).
The French president Hollande's predecessor, Nicholas Sarkozy, came to power in 2007 stressing that France should change its relations with the Francophone Africa and decrease the number of French military bases in Africa (ibid., pg.7). By contrast, French active intervention in Libya and the Ivory Coast in 2011 proved that it is difficult to change old relations of France with its former colonial countries. Even though the fundemantal principles of the French policy in Africa has not shifted with the new presidents of France, Hollande has implemented his traditional African policy based on geo-economic interests of France.
Prior to the French intervention in Mali, Hollande took steps carefully on the international scene and called the international community to work together against the rebels in the country. He underlined that the Malian crisis will not only threaten Africa's security but also international security. In particular, France called African regional and sub-regional organizations to make cooperation to combat the insurgents and to support the regime in Mali. Furthermore, France has sought financial support from the Gulf Arab states to cooperate during the Mali operation. It is important to underline that France has used its global power in order to strengthen its economic, political and strategic interests by cooperating with international and regional organizations during the French Mali operation. On 20 December 2012, the UN authorized the deployment of the military operation of the ECOWAS in Mali, so that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deployed its military mission to Mali known as "the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA)."
France has sought to legalize its military operation in Mali with the three critical steps. The first step is that France intervened militarily in Mali upon the request of the Mali government (Al Jazeera Center for Studies, 2013:3). The second step is that France colloborated with international community during the Mali crisis. For instance, the UN Security Council (UNSC) with its resolution plan of 2085 adopted on 20 December 2012 played a critical role in legalizing the French military involvement in Mali. The last step is that France shared financial responsibility with the international community including the Gulf African states. The French intervention in Mali also has strategic consequences for the French foreign policy towards Africa. The first is that Hollande increased its popularity and strengthened leadership in Europe and in Africa.
The second result is that France has kept its economic and strategic interests through the operation. Mali has significant oil, gas, and mineral resources. For instance, it is the third largest producer of gold in Africa (Evanno, 2013:1). Importantly, France is still highly dependent on these for its technological industries. Furthermore, Niger is a very rich country in uranium and very important country for the French economic interests. It is the fifth largest producer of uranium in the world. France makes 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and gets 33 percent of its uranium from Niger (Francis, 2013:6). France has still been using the rich resources of Africa for its economic and technological developments (Moncrieff, 2012:360). In addition, France with the cooperation of the EU and the Republic of Mali organized an international donors conference named "Together for a New Mali" held in Brussels on 15 May 2013 in order to reinforce the legalization of French military intervention in the world. 108 countries attended the conference and "the Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali (PRED)" was adopted by the participants of the conference. The donor countries have committed to donate €3.25 billion to Mali.
The French Defense Ministry adopted the "White Paper on National Security and Defence" on 29 April 2013. According to the white paper, France should retain its military bases in the strategic countries of Africa to maintain its economic, strategic, and global interests through Africa. In particular, the region of Sahel, Equatorial Africa, the Horn of Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa have been significant for the French economic and strategic interests (Melly and Darracq, 2013:12). It is likely that French foreign policy towards Africa under the leadership of Hollande will go on focusing on developing French economic, strategic and political interests in Africa. The French military intervention in Mali shows that France will continue to get involved in strategic countries in Africa militarily when French security and strategic interests are threatened.
Al Jazeera Center for Studies (2013). French Intervention in Mali: Causes and Consequences. Doha: Al Jazeera Center for Studies, pg. 3.
Evanno, P. (2013). By Getting out of the Western Contradictions: France May Win in Mali. African Perspective, No:1-1, pg. 1.
Francis, D. J. (2013). The Regional Impact of the Armed Conflict and French Intervention in Mali. Norway: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, pg. 6.
Melly, P. and Darracq, V. (2013). A New Way to Engage? French Policy in Africafrom Sarkozy to Hollande. London: Chatham House, pg. 12.
Moncrieff, R. (2012). French Africa Policy: Sarkozy's Legacy, and Prospects for a Hollande Presidency. South African Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 19, No. 3, pg. 362.