Even as it tries to forge a new relationship, France is still Africa's policeman
PARIS – France has long served as Africa's policeman, sending troops in regularly — and often meddling behind the scenes — to keep the peace and secure its interests on a continent where it was once a major colonial power. In more recent years, as it comes to terms with that colonial past, France has tried to forge a different, more equal relationship, focusing on trade.
But it remains a dominant military force for Africa, training African troops and responding to calls from African leaders themselves to help quell conflicts. The U.N. authorized an intervention force Thursday to prevent a bloodbath in Central African Republic, where anarchy is threatening to descend into genocide. France has said it is ready to double the number of troops it has there.
Here are some recent examples of France's intervention in African conflict:
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC — For several years, France has provided support for troops in Central African Republic, one of the world's poorest and least stable countries. A coup earlier this year plunged the country into chaos again, and attacks are mounting between Muslim and Christian militias, raising fears of genocide. France currently has about 600 troops on the ground — providing some security in the capital and keeping the only international airport open. It plans to bring that number to 1,200, as soon as a U.N. resolution authorizes more force. A Security Council vote is scheduled for Thursday.
MALI — After al-Qaida-linked fighters took over northern Mali and threatened to make the vast country a sanctuary for terrorists who could strike Europe, Mali's government called on France for help in January. France had as many as 4,000 troops in the country at the height of the operation, which pushed the Islamists back and then rooted them out of their strongholds throughout Mali's north. While the main fighting is over, France still has around 2,800 troops in Mali — but is gradually reducing the deployment. The commitment has lasted much longer than originally expected, though France is supposed to hand over to African troops under a U.N. mandate.
LIBYA — As Arab Spring uprisings swept the Middle East, Libyans started to protest the decades-long rule of Moammar Gadhafi. When his forces clamped down brutally on civilians, France, along with Britain, pushed for an international response. With a resolution authorizing force, French along with other NATO troops conducted bombing raids and enforced a no-fly zone that helped rebels defeat Gadhafi and establish a government. Continued violence and disorder, however, have led some to wonder if the medicine of Western intervention is worse than the disease.
IVORY COAST — After an attempted coup in 2002, Ivory Coast descended into civil war. French troops initially deployed to protect French citizens, but eventually were called upon to enforce a cease-fire and support a U.N. peacekeeping force. French troops based there also intervened in support of international efforts to oust Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to cede power after he lost elections in 2010. About 450 troops remain, training Ivorian forces and providing a measure of security.
CHAD — France sent 3,000 troops to Chad in 1983 to help it repel a Libyan-supported rebel advance. When Libya failed to pull its troops out of northern Chad as agreed under a peace deal, France sent 1,000 troops back in to oust the Libyans in 1986. Those forces have largely remained and have repeatedly helped Chad's government repel coups and rebel attacks over the years. Around 950 troops still remain, supporting Chad's army and protecting French interests.
RWANDA — Especially in cases when civilians are targeted, like in Central African Republic and Libya, France's interventions in Africa exist in the shadow of its failure to prevent the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were killed. French troops were in the country when the massacre of minority Tutsis by Hutu militias began. Rwanda has sometimes accused French troops of participating in the killings — which France flatly denies. But it remains haunted by what it did not do and acknowledges that it shares responsibility with the international community for not stopping the slaughter.