Thursday, May 14, 2009

French Military Bases in Africa

French troops patrolling N'Djamena Airport, February 2008

(This article was translated from its original French version and does not necessarily reflect the points of view of the Editor or anyone else associated with this blog. The original article can be emailed on request)

France still has ‘boots on the ground’ in several ex-colonial African states who were once part of its large empire. By establishing mutual cooperation and technical assistance agreements with these newly-independent states in the 1960’s, France has maintained a military presence in Chad, the Central African Republic and Djibouti, among others.

What are France’s interests, both strategic and political in these states? A careful analysis reveals these to be far from negligible, allowing France to exercise considerable influence over the internal affairs of these countries.

Lets take for example the events that unfolded in Chad during February 2008 when the government, under the leadership of President Idriss Deby since 1990, was attacked by a Rebel convoy traveling from Sudan. As the rebels headed straight for the Presidential Palace in Ndjamena (the capital), the situation turned critical for the government and its loyalist forces. The French government began an emergency evacuation of Europeans, especially French citizens. But the French role was far from limited to humanitarian evacuation efforts.

Under the aegis of acting to secure the evacuation of its citizens, French troops immediately took control of the main airport, making sure the government had access to its most effective means of riposte, the air force. As a result, and without ‘official’ French participation, the air force successfully squelched the rebellion and saved the government of President Deby from an imminent death.

In an impressive show of political and military craftsmanship, France was able to both protect the airport for evacuation measures, and safeguard its short-term economic and strategic interests. Strategically, France held its position in the region, which allows it to intervene rapidly in future crisis situations. Economically, the French military protects French firms (Total for example) that operate in the less than favourable security environments of the region – threatening these firms is to threaten the French military itself.

However, in the long-term it was France’s prestige that was on the line: few countries, besides the United States, can boast overseas bases of the kind France has in Africa. From this point of view, we cannot overlook the importance of the desert environment these bases provide for the training of the elite Marine Infantry Regiments. These bases maintain the military readiness of these troops for harsh climate operations.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to note how little the French government communicates regarding its presence in such areas, and how little it is questioned. The transparency that is demanded for operations in Afghanistan, or the reasons for the presence of French troops in Africa, are seldom given. It's as if that presence was self-explanatory.

Mathieu Lepaon is an International Relations student and reserve soldier of the French Army

(Photo from ABC News

1 comment:

Sarah said...

great article.