François Gaulme Associate Researcher, Institut français des relations internationales – written evidence (AFR0033)
27 March 2020
Answers to the Lords International Committee’s questions
In the context of the ongoing Algerian War, a major National tragedy, France since the 1960s has by contrast and as a sort of balance been developing a new and privileged relationship with her former colonial territories in Sub-Saharan Africa. The first step of this process resulted in a massive de-colonisation for these territories during the year 1960. Under the young presidential regime of general de Gaulle ('Vth Republic'), France was keen to disseminate her own political model to these new and very fragile Nation-States while attempting to warrant post-independence stability through a maintained military presence and an effective security support under a new range of bilateral Defence agreements including 'secret clauses' for effective French intervention in case of coup or insurgency. France guaranteed also the Franc CFA, a currency created in 1945, updating the colonial system of two Central Banks, one in Western Africa and one in Central Africa to independent states. On parallel, France granted financial and technical assistance to these countries through an ODA system relaying the former economic and social support to French colonies instituted after WW 2. Only one country, Guinea -opting for a privileged relationship with USSR and the Soviet Block- was excluded at the start from this quite integrated civilian and military system of bilateral relationship and reintegrated later on, during Giscard d'Estaing's presidency, at a time of softened global East-West tension.
Updated to the contemporary context of world affairs and the global terrorist threat, this three-pillared brand of French-African relationship is still fully effective today, however criticised from the start as being 'neo-colonial'. It survived the durably stained image of a 'Françafrique's featured by corruption and political cronies, as well as the much stronger accusation of a French support to the genocidal 'Hutu power' regime in Rwanda in 1994. On the whole and albeit President Macron's attempts to give a more 'multilateral', European and 'de-colonised' dimension to the France-Africa relationship, French approaches to Sub-Saharan Africa are still very much focused on the former West African colonies. Centred on the actual response to the security crisis in the Sahel and an ongoing financial/military assistance to Côte d'Ivoire since the end of the civil war, this policy significantly differs from what might be described as a traditionally more 'restrained' UK's attitude towards its former Sub-Saharan colonies, especially in terms of military intervention, currency support and even cultural strategy. On support of the French and/or local African languages/cultures, the later has to be more or less co-ordinated with the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), an institution quite distinct from the Commonwealth by its origins and objectives.
Under Prime ministers Tony Blair and Lionel Jospin, a 'joint African policy' was adopted by France and UK at the Saint-Malo bilateral Summit of December 1998, jointly with an European security and Defence Strategy. Such a move included joint ministerial visits in Africa. This initiative was to fail miserably. Due to diverging policies toward the military Guinean regime of the time and in the context of containing civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the then British Development Assistance minister Clare Short was received separately by President Conte in Conakry in 2001, his French counterpart Charles Josselin being left by his own in the waiting room.
Another aspect of the Saint-Malo agreement on African policy was an attempt to produce effective joint strategical analysis on the growing conflicts spreading over Sub-Saharan Africa, while the pre-'Arab Spring' Northern Africa was at the time considered to be more structurally stable. In the framework of the 'Entente Cordiale' Centennial celebrations, a bilingual Franco-British analysis paper -to my knowledge the first and last one on such topics- was produced by a colleague from the FCO Africa Research Group on the British side and myself on the French side, on behalf of the Agence française de développement (AFD) of which I was an agent at the time and supervised by the Africa Director at the Ministère des Affaires étrangères. Entitled The regional Dynamics of West African Conflicts/ La dynamique régionale des conflits en Afrique de l'Ouest, this paper included lessons learned from comparing the British policy towards Sierra Leone and the French one in Côte d'Ivoire.
This try for delivering a formal joint analysis was a half-success. Firstly, producing a paper half way between an academic report and a diplomatic memorandum was considered as too time consuming in the end. Secondly, the paper was to be poorly disseminated among departmental bodies working very much in silos on either side of the Channel. Finally, core differences on broad political approach and dealing with current affairs was to be taken into account: under the ‘Modernising Government’ agenda set out by the Cabinet Office in 1999, HMG was fostering in London an 'evidence-based' policy, while in Paris a French government analysis and decision-making system dominated by the overarching President's will under the Vth Republic's Constitution was still producing a more traditional brand of 'opinion-based' policy with almost no academic content in the analytical process.
These diverging methods and approaches very clearly struck the eye later on, when, among the shortcomings I witnessed, Gordon Brown tried vainly to get France involved into a confidential assessment of the political situation and democratisation prospect in Chad, carried out by a British diplomat at the FCO.
A more longstanding /structural difficulty for working effectively together on dealing with actual Sub-Saharan crises was linked to quite important differences on Government systems and formal proceedings between France and UK. While HMG instituted a co-ordinated Conflict Prevention Pool for Africa between DFID, the FCO and the MoD and managed pluri-annual and flexible budget allocations, France had no equivalent of her own. The French ministry for Co-operation (= Development assistance) was integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1997, but a rather independent -minded and USAid style State Corporation for Overseas Development Assistance was also reinforced under the new acronym of AFD, strengthened with much more massive financial capacity than the new super-Ministry never had.
Over the years after the Saint-Malo Summit, all these factors resulted into what might be described as a slow and silent decaying of the ineffective 'Joint African Policy'.
Bilateral understanding and a hearty aim to work effectively together together in Western Africa had to wait till 2017 to be effective again, in the entirely reshuffled European context of an incoming Brexit. Under a 'New Strategic Approach towards Africa' adopted by HMG, the personal role of Minister for Africa Rory Stewart on its operational implementation -especially the sending of 3 Chinook helicopters in Mali to support the French Operation Barkhane- was much acknowledged by France being so to speak militarily at the end of her tether in the Sahel and in dire need of actual support on the war field. According to what told me a French diplomat in October 2018, 'relations have never been better' between France and UK on Africa.
If I might add personal comment to such factual remarks, I should insist on two points: (i) 'security' issues, both global and local and including governance, education and health aspects, would be paramount in any joint approach in the near future, and would have to conciliate and complement the French '3 Ds' (Diplomacy, Defence, Development) official approach with the broader British 'Fusion Doctrine'; (ii) most 'recommendations' from the 2004 bilingual joint analysis sounds to me still appropriate and might help to define a pathway for any future work together in Western Africa, which is more than ever the focal area for a joint action.
These recommendations, I do think, are still worth to be considered and implemented in any bilateral security alliance :
'To combat current conflict and help to prevent further conflict in West Africa France and the UK should:
● coordinate multilateral action to move beyond the country by country approach and tackle the nomad war phenomenon, and avoid conflict resolution in one country leading to a spill over into another.
● Develop joint analysis of different conflict situations, taking particular account of the capacity of actors to operate on several different levels at once (modern and traditional, State and non-State). [...]
● Re-affirm our commitment to make West Africa a permanent framework for consultation on development cooperation.
● Take further action to stem the proliferation of light weapons coming from Eastern Europe and first ever- was produced in -June-October 2004 by a colleague from the FCO's Africa Analyst Group onwork to strengthen the ECOWAS moratorium on light weapons.
● Make better and more useful higher education and training a priority for post conflict societies. To make sure that French and UK employers in West Africa are involved in this and contribute to it.
● Work to ensure that legitimate governments are able to exercise control over their territories. Specifically to develop an effective international response to the most sensitive geographical area [...] both in terms of short term stabilisation and longer term development. French and UK companies interested in investment in this area should be incorporated into this strategy.
● Consider in greater depth, in particular as concerns our aid programme, structural imbalances, inter-relationships and potential points of conflict in West Africa such as tensions between the Sahel and the Coast and conflicts between pastoralists and settled agriculturists.
● Consider in depth the relationship between the agricultural sector and youth unemployment. In particular to consider ways in which the sector can become more efficient while creating more employment.
● Continue to carefully consider ways in which local level dispute settlement can be used to aid conflict resolution, including collective pardons, initiations societies, and so forth, while being aware of the capacity of some of these mechanisms to perpetuate situations of communal rivalry and exclusion.'
A primary problem with France's approach to the Sahel is to my opinion a lack of pro-active content and anticipation. Operation Serval was launched very much in a hurry on 11 January 2013 and contradicted President Holland's previous commitment formally expressed in Dakar in October 2012: to limit French action in the Sahel to a financial, logistical and technical support for African regional peace-implementing forces. Similarly, support to the G5 countries through military and civilian assistance was developed as a rather poorly planned response to an African (especially Mauritanian) pressure, without any pre-consideration by France of an obvious overlapping and/or rivalry between Ecowas and the newly constituted G5 Sahel as regional institutions. At the G7 Summit in Biarritz in August 2020, President Macron retrospectively tried to balance the negative consequences of this self-proclaimed 'pragmatic' but also poorly conceptualised policy by informally integrating Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire into the French-supported regional alliance to fight terrorism.
Since 2017, co-ordination between international civilian assistance (under an 'Alliance Sahel' which UK is part of notably) and military action sounds to be more effective at strategic headquarters level under the control of an Ambassador Special Envoy for the Sahel. Till today, however, a critical overall security situation for the whole Western African sub-region reduces to nil many grass-root civilian programmes on Education and Health supposed to complement the military action over a long-term peace-building under a '3 Ds' framework . As observed previously in Afghanistan, a first French armies' success under Operation Serval gave way to what is now described by observers and academics as an 'enlisement' (stagnation) process, coupled lately with growing local critics of France, an outcome staining the relationship with the political and social elite in Sahel countries. In January 2020, to address this gloomy situation President Macron ordered a 'surge' -up to 5500 troops with additional 600 soldiers- for Operation Barkhane, the biggest ground military deployment ever by France in Sub-Saharan Africa. Notwithstanding this, International and national military action under the new name of a 'Coalition Sahel' remains conceptually and operationally unable to stop most of the numerous local conflicts of a frontless and 'asymetrical' warfare system. Beyond Islamic fundamentalism influence, these are triggered by rampant ethnic tensions, mostly between herders and farmers, a confrontation mobilising younger people in local militias and neo-traditional fighting groups (often qualified as 'hunters'). Besides all this, the actual impact on the Sahel security situation of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic remains quite unknown and unpredictable at this stage.
There is an acknowledgment in Paris that the 'New strategic Approach toward Africa' changed the British approach, leading to a more balanced treatment between each sub-region of the continent. In particular, broadening the area of confrontation with islamic terrorism from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel zone while at the same time opening embassies in Francophone countries -outside the area of Commonwealth membership-was considered in Paris, I would say, more as a welcomed support to France's military effort than an evidence of starting a rough competition with her and/or EU countries for economic and political influence. Such a positive impression would have to be nurtured in the future, I think. The UK-Africa Investment Summit of January 2020 in London should not be ill-interpreted by France as the first step of an economic aggression plan. To my opinion, the focus of a trustful and operative Franco-British co-operation ought to be kept on the security issues in Western Africa, through jointly elaborating a practical and detailed agenda both for analysis and operations (see also answer to question 2).
On line with the successive Operations Serval and Barkhane under François Hollande's Presidency, Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius tried with little success to support business opportunities for France's larger companies in the Sahel, a too small market not to be durably neglected by French main economic interests. Supporting French business there was shortly integrated into the annual Government rating of AFD's achievements.
President Macron did not follow that pace. Under the influence of an newly appointed 'Conseil présidentiel pour l'Afrique' regrouping mostly young binational members of the African diaspora, he shifted to advocating a network of small businesses between France and Africa, in a context of economic growth which should be stopped by the present World epidemic wave. On request of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, he agreed also in December 2019 to update the West African 'Franc CFA' regulation controlled by France and rated as 'neo-colonial' by a growing number of African voices. This first step of a supposedly fast move to replace the CFA by the 'Eco' as the Ecowas regional currency -in a system of fixed exchange rate with the European Euro guaranteed by France- was bluntly rejected by Nigeria and 5 other similarly disapproving member-countries.
Confronted with a protracted negative trend for French economic interests in the whole of the African continent, the Government commissioned also a report by former Economy and Finance Minister Hervé Gaymard intitled 'Relancer la présence économique française en Afrique : l'urgence d'une ambition collective à long terme' (April 2019). Among the recommendations was to integrate support of French economic interests among the objectives for the official Development assistance policy. This report had no worth to be noticed impact however, whether in the Government strategy or upon the public debate in France.
The next Africa-France Summit, scheduled for June in Bordeaux, has been postponed to a later date. Its main topic was 'The sustainable African city', with probably major infrastructure projects to be considered there. France is for instance quite reactive to a Metro project in Abidjan, the Ivorian capital and one of the main West African ports.
Received 27 March 2020