Analytical paper prepared by: Menna Allah Ibrahim Abdel Rahman – Master’s researcher at the Faculty of African Studies – Cairo University – Egypt
Democratic Arab Center
Despite the obstacles that Russia faces on the Ukrainian front due to the Western mobilization against it; It is making progress on another front through its soft influence in Francophone Africa. The coup of Captain “Ibrahim Traoré” in Burkina Faso, who overthrew the military government of “Paul Henry Damiba” on September 30, 2022, showed the extent of this influence, and it is no secret that Burkina Faso has been in recent months a target of hybrid propaganda war policies on social media accusing the colonel. Deposed “Damiba” as a French agent. Russian propaganda has consistently undermined the local population’s confidence in French forces deployed to the region to fight violent armed groups. There are other reports also accusing France of financing propaganda campaigns in the region to enhance its influence and agendas in the region
A- Russia’s use of the military tool in Africa:
As happened in Burkina Faso, Mali was subjected to two coups between 2020 and 2021 carried out by officers hostile to France, which prompted Emmanuel Macron to end the French military deployment that is fighting violent armed groups in the country. After the new military leaders announced the break with France, the Russian “Wagner” mercenaries deployed in the camps abandoned by the French forces. Similarly, we can see anti-French populist rhetoric in Niger. In June 2022, President Emmanuel Macron suspended all financial and military aid to the Central African Republic after accusing its government of being hostage to the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group. France also fears adopting the same populist rhetoric against it in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. This rapid rise in Russian influence in Africa may partly explain Macron’s angry speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2022, in which he (implicitly) accused African countries of betraying their long-term interests by refusing to condemn Vladimir Putin’s “neo-colonialism”. by invading Ukraine.
B- Transformations in “France Africa“:
In 1998 President François Mitterrand declared that “without Africa, France would have no history in the twenty-first century”. France’s close relationship with its former colonies in West Africa has its roots in the decolonization negotiations of the 1960s and 1970s, when, with the exception of Guinea Conakry, these colonies, with the exception of Guinea Conakry, chose to achieve their national independence while maintaining close relations with France, hoping to avoid conflict. and benefit from a smoother transition to political and economic independence. For France, maintaining relations with its former colonies meant maintaining influence over territories that gave it access to oil, raw materials, and untapped consumer markets.
C- Factors of French decline in Francophone Africa:
In this context, we can talk about three main factors that led to the French retreat in Francophone Africa:
The first factor, and the most important, is the militarization of the French presence in Africa. That is, the way France expresses itself from a military point of view in its former colonies, which we can call the “Francophone bloc”. In the past, West Africa and Equatorial Africa formed two more or less cohesive and organized historical blocs. France worked hard to maintain its influence after independence through foreign interventions and operations that gave the French presence a military character (the big stick policy). There are more than 70 French foreign operations in Africa. Today, there is a growing sense among African youth that this military presence is no longer necessary, outdated and out of step with the context of changing realities. Symbolically, the French presence carries a negative charge and a mental image of the soldiers of the former colonial state in some countries. Accordingly, it becomes understandable that public opinion has become hostile to this situation, which is approached with the concept of occupation. It is known that the French soldiers have very important and positive responsibilities in some operations, and led to the establishment of peace and security on the ground. But there are also notorious French covert operations and interventions. For example, the French intervention in overthrowing some presidents and helping to install others. This presence has marked a form of hesitation and distrust in the African collective mind. The French soldier is seen, rightly or wrongly, as a tool of French meddling in African affairs.
The second factor is represented in the mental images and the arrogance of France and the supremacy of its elites. This factor is not underestimated among Africans. In his latest book, The Decline of French Influence in Africa, published in Paris this year, French journalist Frédéric Legel interviews nearly a hundred African personalities, dissidents, former ministers and prime ministers, influencers, NGO leaders and civil society leaders. The result was shocking, as the factor of superiority and arrogance always emerged. This is the ability that France must set for itself when it wears the clothes of preachers and walks the earth preaching and cursing the corrupt, although it does the opposite in practice. It is clear that this dichotomy in the French role is what spoiled France’s image in Africa.
The third and final factor, which is political, is linked to its predecessor. France may have good intentions when it stands for the rule of law and democracy. On the other hand, when you realistically defend authoritarian regimes that do not respect the most basic rules of human rights, this means a lack of respect for the will of the African people. The existing cooperation with certain countries, especially with regard to defense and security cooperation, shows the Africans who are demonstrating to demand more freedoms that France’s hand and its military grip are preventing them from what they aspire to.
In conclusion, France’s relationship with Africa is a historical one, and as President Mitterrand said, Africa is essential for France to benefit from the continent’s resources and to give it a sense of strength and brilliance at the international level, whether through its forces previously stationed in the Francophone bloc and the African representation in the United Nations. The foregoing means that Africa in Paris is part of a field that is always “reserved” in the Elysee Palace, and that French policy towards Africa takes place in the stronghold of the Presidency of the Republic, and not anywhere else, as the French Parliament did not have a major say in policy towards the continent. This is still the case with Emmanuel Macron, who can take military intervention decisions without consulting Parliament, which makes what Macron has been doing since his first term as an attempt to embellish. It faces a legacy that has been brewing for several decades in light of the contexts of global competition witnessed by the current international situation. This may also explain part of the picture that elevates parties such as China and Russia and lowers other parties such as the former colonial powers, led by France.