France is opening new channels to improve cooperation and strengthen already existing bilateral ties with African countries, politically and economically. France is in the process of redefining its policies under a general review, in order to increase effectiveness.
The February 2008 visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy to South Africa has formed a basis for reference about the foreign policy of France in Africa. Senior French government officials have since re-echoed President Sarkozy’s statement. Is this the moment for France to take Africa as a true partner at the level like that of US, Russian, Latin America? This could be a long term process.
Defence agreements and military cooperation
France wants the military cooperation in Africa to be in line with initiatives such as the African network for peace and security as well as the African standby force at continental and regional level. This is addressed in the government White Paper on defence and security. France is moving to a multilateral path so that its defence missions are part of the African continental bodies.
France will revisit military agreements with its 8 former colonies of Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Togo, Gabon, Central African Republic and Djibouti. Initially, the agreements specified that French troops would compulsorily intervene to defend governments in former colonies, in the event of armed aggression. Under the new agreements, French troop involvement should be on case-by-case basis; with no involvement in domestic conflicts. Also, the French military bases will be reduced to 3 out of the initial five bases on the continent.
Currently, France supports the African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) in Somalia which comprises of Burundian and Ugandan soldiers. The mission is a positive action whose efficiency is comparable to any other mission of the United Nations.
France has also agreed to train Somalia troops, police and judiciary starting September. They will train 500 servicemen at as cost of €1million in neighbouring Djibouti.
France has the ambition to bring in the European Union as the first partner of Africa in peace and security. This has succeeded in the field of aid under EU through which France channels its aid to Africa. France is a major contributor of financial support to African countries. France is one of the 27 member states of the EU and bilateral support to Africa under the Agency for Development totals to more than €7billlion. Franc support accounts for 25% of the aid from EU, coming second only after UK, the main donor.
Africa in the next 15 years will be a priority for France in the conflict prevention strategy. Prevention of conflicts in Africa is one of the priorities in the French foreign policy. This involves the monitoring and control of small arms under the Kimberley Instructions to avoid illegal provision of arms. France also intervenes in crises and supports classical diplomacy and negotiation efforts. Otherwise, the deployment of military means could also be considered.
Africa is a field of crises; but there have been positive elements lately. For instance, some of the conflicts e.g. in Kenya have been resolved. Also, on the whole, conflicts in Africa are on a lower scale than 15 years ago. Although France has supported missions in African countries, there is an increasing role of the EU to which France is a member. This continental body should take over ownership of security issues of African countries.
Also, there are mechanisms in place to assess fragile states, which are monitored to assess potentially dangerous situations. There is a scale that is used to determine the level of political stability. The politically fragile countries are not listed to avoid stigma. However, this helps those concerned to have forward planning.
France also keenly follows events in Africa, especially the Great Lakes region on issues of good governance. France is however cautious in its diplomacy. The does not give lessons on democracy and there is full respect of the sovereignty of partner African states. Political governance is much more complicated because France is cautious not to enforce its own model.
France does not deliver messages based on moral values. For instance, in tackling corruption it is easy to tell African governments that corruption is bad because it is against their interests to attract investors. This is easier approach that condemning African governments for corruption.
One prominent forum to advance France’s relations with Africa is the France-Africa Summit, which was initiated in 1973 by the then French President Pompidou. During these summits, issues discussed range from international affairs and conflicts. These summits reflect France’s willingness to engage Africa. Also, at such forums, leaders of non-French speaking African countries such as Uganda are invited.
The meetings have been criticised though for having no particular agenda. This denies critics information to know what was discussed. Often, a statement is issued at the end, but no commitments are made by the leaders. This is why the summit has been viewed as a presidential cocktail. But it is President Nicolas Sarkozy’s intention to have these summits take place under improved arrangements.
There is growing economic interest of French companies in Africa, particularly the Great Lakes region. However, the region remains politically volatile, which discourages investments. Uganda is one of the countries experiencing dynamic development and it is hard to keep away from the potential that lies in the region. Uganda is marketing itself as an investment destination through its foreign mission in France. There is French interest in infrastructure development, energy, sustainable protection of forests and agriculture sectors.
France has identified need to involve the private sector and discuss commerce and trade between Africa and France. France recognises the private sector as a main trigger to economic development in Africa. There is need to promote partnerships between the private sector in France and Africa. There is also a need to support the civil society organisations.
At the end of September, a delegation of investors will visit Kampala to hold discussions with the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) about potential investments and partnerships in Uganda. Already, there are a number of French companies that are operating in Uganda.
There is ongoing negotiation with the EAC and the EU on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). However, the EA region is split between many regional blocs, which make negotiation difficult. France under the EU Commission aims to complete all negotiations before the end of this year. Under the setup of the French polity and systems of governance: there is involvement of many institutions which oversee interactions internally and externally.
In the Great Lakes Region, France has links with Uganda, Burundi, and DR Congo. It is also seeking to mend the relations with Rwanda. They also closely monitor the situation in the region and have commended the existing cooperation between Rwanda and DRC to jointly fight rebel elements in the two countries. There is urgent need to control the illicit trade in natural resources within the region, which fuels conflicts.
France was proactive in solving the problem of Rwanda. The country made efforts by supporting the peace talks in the East African regional capital of Arusha between the then rebels of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) with the government of the slain President Juvenal Habyarimana. However, the efforts were jeopardised by Habyarimana’s assassination. Other sectors that France supports include cultural cooperation as well as education.