October 24, 2016
By Eva Nelson
Republished from The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Eva Nelson analyses the underlying motivations in France’s foreign policy towards Africa.
The long view of French foreign policy in Africa is paved by conflict of interest. Some politicians are tempted to pull out of the continent for fear of accusation of neo-colonialism, somewhat incompatible with President Hollande’s definition of the Francafrique. Others, looking forward to re-election, are more preoccupied with appeasing national fears of terrorism by keeping a grip on the Sahel – which they hope will secure them votes from an electorate that begs for heightened national security.
This paradox in policy is best witnessed by asymmetric reactions to recent French intervention in Mali and the Central African Republic. Civil wars were taking place at the same time in both countries, but the French media and public opinion reacted differently to each. The government received praise for intervening in Northern Mali, while involvement in the Central African Republic was barely covered, if not overlooked, by the French domestic audience. How to explain such a divide in public opinion for two identical military interventions? Unsurprisingly, it was due to the perceived relationship between the global jihad narrative and domestic security issues, and reinforced by public denial of France’s post-colonial responsibility for conflict in Central Africa.