By the end of 2013, ‘the White man’s burden’ was proving too heavy to bear for France. Feeling militarily and materially outstretched, Paris cried for help from other European powers to help it shoulder ‘its responsibility’ to quell violence, restore peace, order and political legitimacy in its backyards of Mali and Central African Republic, both in turmoil: the Islamists terrorists linked to Al-Qaïda in Maghreb (Aqmi), Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and so on, are wreaking havoc in northern Mali and Christians and Muslims are hacking each other to death in Central African Republic (CAR). Both Belgium and the United States responded positively by providing logistics and transport for the French and African troops.
As Colette Braeckman of the Belgian daily Le Soir argued on December 31 2013, if France abandons these former colonies, it will represent not only a resignation in humanitarian terms but also a political signal, indicating the weakening of the French position on the international level. So ‘abandon’ is not really the term here because France cannot do without Africa.
In fact, former President Jacques Chirac acknowledged in 2008 that ‘without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power’ (Philippe Leymarie, 2008, Manière de voir, n°79, février-mars 2008).
Chirac’s predecessor François Mitterand already prophesied in 1957 that ‘Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century’ (François Mitterrand, Présence française et abandon, 1957, Paris: Plon).
Former French foreign minister Jacques Godfrain for his part confirmed that ‘a little country [France], with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our] relations with 15 or 20 African countries…’ This is consistent with France’s ‘Françafrique’ policies, which aim to perpetuate a particular ‘special relationship’ with its former African colonies (Thabo Mbeki, ‘What the world got wrong in Côte d’Ivoire,’ Foreign Policy. April 29). So France is intervening in Africa for the sake of its own survival as a country as well as a power. It is perfectly justified to argue that it is France that is ‘a burden’ to CAR and its other former colonies in Africa, not the other way round. And so, total independence for CAR, both political and economic means the end of ‘Françafrique’.
UNITED IN FEAR OF CHINA
It is well known that both Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo and former president François Bozize of CAR got into trouble with the master – meaning France – because they turned to China for win-win cooperation. They were swiftly removed from power. In the case of CAR, France opted for Michel Djotodia who headed the Seleka (meaning ‘union’ in the Sango language) rebel movement which overthrew Bozize in a matter of weeks. Did France not know that Seleka was an Islamist movement from the north of CAR linked to Al-Qaïda in Maghreb (Aqmi) and Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria at the time? Paris surely did! But those uranium deals Bozize signed with China sealed the end of his regime.
FROM ‘A WAR OF REGIME CHANGE’ TO ‘A WAR OF CORRECTION’
The horrors perpetrated by gangs of Seleka (including Chadians, Sudanese and other ‘Soldiers Without Borders’) led to the emergence of self-defense groups, the ‘Anti-Balakas’, composed of Christians, simple peasants armed with machetes, but also former supporters of ousted president François Bozizé (Colette Braeckman, Le Soir, 28 December 2013). Initially, France launched what it called ‘Operation Sangaris’ which was mainly a police operation, with well-defined objectives: to neutralize the Seleka fighters.
The French forces were operating in coordination with the Misca (UN Mission in the Central African) intervention force, which replaced FOMAC (Military force in Central Africa) composed of Chadian, Burundian and Congolese (Brazzaville) soldiers.
On December 5 2013, while ‘Operation Sangaris’ was still in its infancy, ‘Anti-Balaka’ elements armed with machetes, launched attacks and massacred many Muslims whom they accused of supporting the Seleka from the north, predominantly Muslim too – divide and rule, the legacy of French colonialism is taking its toll.
Relations with interim President Michel Djotodia deteriorated to hate level (especially due to his link with Islamists when France was fighting the same Islamists in Mali). African forces meant to help restore peace were said to have different agendas. Thus Chadians were believed to protect the Seleka (among which are nationals of their country) while soldiers from Congo-Brazzaville and Burundi feel closer to the Christian populations; to the extent that an exchange of fire took place between Burundian ‘peacekeepers’ and their Chadian counterparts in Bangui. The tension was such that ultimately it was decided that Chadians had to be relocated to the north of the country (Colette Braeckman, Le Soir, 28 December 2013).
Worried that the crisis could spill over into the DRC (like it was with Rwanda in 1994, in fact the DRC has already welcomed thousands of refugees from CAR, which shares a long but porous border with CAR), Kinshasa announced the deployment of 850 troops in Central Africa to secure the border. Curiously, Rwanda which is at war with the DRC, also announced that it would provide a contingent of 800 men to the African Union (apparently Rwandan troops are going to hunt the Hutu ‘genocidists’ allegedly hiding in CAR).
France was determined to ‘correct the mistake’ it made by backing Michel Djotodia. Since French troops’ relation with interim President Michel Djotodia deteriorated to hate level, there was no way he could continue to preside over the country. He quickly became a liability.
Both interim President Djotodia and Transitional Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye were forced to resign on January 9 2014 at an extraordinary summit of leaders of the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC, by its French acronym) gathered in Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, at the initiative of Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno (the main backer of Djotodia). Deby had understood that France did not want Djotodia anymore.
FRANCE STILL CALLING THE SHOTS IN CAR
For the time being, CAR has ‘an acting transitional president of the republic’ Alexander Ferdinand Nguendet, the current National Transitional Council President. Mr. Nguendet has already pledged that the election would take place ‘under such conditions’ as stipulated by the Transitional Charter. So far, violence continues unabated and tension remains high.
The newly elected transitional leader will have the difficult task of pacifying the country, a totally paralyzed administration and allowing hundreds of thousands of displaced people to return to their homes. France has also indicated that it wished that general elections be held ‘before the end of 2014’. We suppose that all mining contracts Djotodia signed with whoever will probably be cancelled. It is France who is calling the shots. Not surprised! How independent are African countries? New Year, new wars in Africa. Even South Sudan, Africa’s youngest country, has not escaped from the road most travelled by its older siblings. The truth is that every ‘resource war’ in Africa has hidden hands pulling the strings behind it.
Antoine Roger Lokongo is a journalist and Beijing University PhD candidate from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This article first appeared on Pambazuka News website, produced by a pan-African community.