France loses influence in Africa as Russia likely to have more powerful role in region
The author is the African Institute co-director at Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies (TASAM)
The competition between Russia and France for influence in Africa is discussed here in three questions.
What is behind the competition between France and Russia in Africa?
French President Emmanuel Macron promised a new African policy in his election campaign in 2017. According to this new policy, France would no longer be interventionist but would be a strategic partner who would develop relations on the basis of equality. But he failed to keep his promise.
Macron’s administration has suffered major failures in Africa, especially in the fight against terrorism, in the fields of politics and economy. As a result, the former French colonies, which were damaged under the colonial and neocolonial policies of the French for many years, began to show their dissatisfaction with anti-France protests and coup attempts.
For example, Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba’s failure to fight terrorism and unsuccessful policies were said to be a reason for the coup held in Burkina Faso in September. This could be interpreted as an indication of France’s decreasing prestige in Africa.
Since the beginning of the Donald Trump era, the US has started to pay less attention to the continent while France has been losing its influence in Africa day by day. Russia, which was pushed into isolation in the international arena, is likely to have a more powerful role in the region.
The efforts of the Wagner Group, a private Russian military group, can be seen as an element that significantly increases Russian influence in Africa, although Moscow does not officially accept it.
Some African states that have deep security problems such as terrorism, internal conflicts and coups, but do not have sufficient resources to combat them, accept the Wagner Group’s offers to ensure stability in exchange for economic concessions.
Most of the time, this cooperation was not only limited to the military field but also expanded to the political sphere as the Russians began to provide political consultancy services. As a result, we witnessed the competition between France and Russia in Africa.
What does France do to avoid losing its influence on former colonies?
Following the decolonization of Africa, France attached great importance to its military strategies in its neocolonial policies toward Africa. They signed military cooperation agreements with more than 40 African countries.
These agreements, which include building peace and stability, combating piracy and smuggling, preventing illegal immigration, and fighting terrorism, form the legitimate basis for the French military presence in Africa.
France has military bases in various strategic locations on the continent.
The base in Djibouti, the largest overseas military base, and the bases in Ivory Coast are used for the operations. Bases in Senegal and Gabon provide security support to host and neighboring states for operations.
France also has naval bases on Reunion Island and Mayotte. Moreover, there are French troops deployed in various countries within the framework of formations such as the Corymbe Mission and Operation Barkhane.
France has carried out more than 60 military interventions in Africa since 1960. France’s military presence in Africa reached approximately 8,700 personnel in 2019, half of which included all defense units and special forces.
However, after its military withdrawal from Mali and the Central African Republic in 2022, the number of French troops in the region significantly decreased.
Contrary to many experts’ beliefs, these withdrawals should not be interpreted as France giving up its military presence in Africa. France is now seeking a new military structure that will enable a more effective presence with fewer personnel.
In recent months, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu visited various African countries with new proposals.
It is also known that France is discussing a new security policy with the UK. With this new security policy, France is also likely to share more tasks and powers with its European partners in African security.
Which country will increase its influence on the region?
Today, China has an undisputed superiority in the fields of trade and economy in Africa.
In the early days of China’s presence in the continent, African states were quite pleased to cooperate with this new actor, as China did not approach them with various impositions such as democracy and human rights, and provided financial resources easily.
However, over time, relations with China started to be questioned as the African countries had a disadvantageous position in both “debt-trap diplomacy” and investment agreements.
On the other hand, the Trump administration in the US shifted its focus from Africa to the Asia-Pacific region, In the same period, France lost power in Africa with its failures in the political, military and socio-cultural spheres.
These developments gave an advantage to Russia, which was pushed into isolation in the international arena due to its aggressive policies and needed new cooperation to gain power.
Providing assistance for political and military consultancy in addition to military support through the Wagner Group, Russians managed to gain influence in a short time on the continent.
Ukraine and France are working to limit Russia’s influence on the continent. On the other hand, the Joe Biden administration in the US began to take steps for an effective return to Africa.
Biden announced that he primarily supports the Africans’ demands for permanent representation in the G-20 and the UN Security Council. He also hosted the second US-Africa Leaders Summit on Dec. 13-15, 2022, in Washington D.C., eight years after the first one.
At this summit, the US promised $55 billion in aid to Africa in the next three years with cooperation in many fields.
As a result, more actors will compete for influence in Africa in the upcoming years.
China has a bigger advantage than other countries in Africa with a trading volume of $255 billion. None of the other states are expected to reach this trade volume soon.
However, the balance in the politics and military on the continent will be tried to be changed by Russia, the US, France, and the UK.
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