London: By the time François Hollande was sworn in as president of France on 15 May 2012 he may well have suspected that, one year into his term, French troops would be on the ground in Mali. Like his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, he believed France should provide logistical and intelligence support if West African countries sent troops to tackle the jihadist groups that had taken over the Malian north. But that France’s own contingent would be almost 4,000 strong and committed to an aggressive combat role was probably not the most likely scenario envisaged by either man. The dramatic scale of the military intervention in the Sahel is a measure of Africa’s surge up the scale of priorities for French policy-makers and an indication of the complex challenges the continent still presents for France.
The French military intervention in January and February this year ended the occupation of northern Mali by rebel movements and jihadists. When I was in Bamako at the end of February, organisations across the political spectrum applauded France as Mali’s saviour and liberator. There had been a grave danger that the jihadists would seize Bamako, thereby seize the state, and turn the country into a fundamentalist political entity. A Muslim leader said to us: ‘France saved Mali, saved our way of life, saved Islam itself’.
London: France's long awaited defence and national security White Paper, released on 29 April, outlines some noteworthy cuts in the country's defence capabilities, but these are not as significant as many expected. Furthermore, the document outlines some investment in new areas. Significant global events, such as the economic crisis, popular uprisings and subsequent troubles in North Africa and the Middle East, and the US strategic retrenchment and rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific, led President Hollande to commission a new strategic defence and security review only five years after the previous one.
Paris: Africa figures prominently in France's newly outlined military defense strategy - and experts say the Mali offensive may serve as a blueprint for future operations. Outlined by Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the newly released review of France's national security and defense policy reflects the challenges of dealing with new military threats with less money.
Mali straddles a vast region in Africa that is rich in oil, gas, gold, copper, diamond and uranium resources. France's nuclear power plants are supplied from the uranium mines in Niger, which neighbors Mali. No doubt, France has important strategic and economic interests in the region and doubts have been voiced whether its intervention in Mali is anything more than a neocolonial enterprise. The Archbishop of Accra called it a "colonization attempt". Suffice to say, the West's Mali intervention should have triggered a reaction by Russia and China.
Johannesburg: The French dubbed it the neglected "Cinderella" of their African colonial empire; modern observers have called it a "phantom state". Landlocked, isolated and poverty stricken despite reserves of gold, timber, uranium and gemstone quality diamonds, Central African Republic has been racked by rural rebellions for more than a decade. In the latest flare-up, loosely-allied insurgents, demanding an end to years of exclusion from government, closed in on the capital Bangui over Christmas and the New Year, forcing President Francois Bozize to agree to talks about his future.
Abidjan: French companies must go on the offensive and fight the growing influence of rival China for a stake in Africa's increasingly competitive markets, France's Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said on Saturday. France, which once ruled over much of West Africa as colonial master, continued to exert direct and indirect influence over its ex-colonies for decades through a murky system of patronage known as "Francafrique". However, that regional reach is now being challenged by a new Chinese investment blitz.
Dkar: Gabon’s President Ali Ben Bongo announced in October the country will start promoting English as a second language, in addition to the current French in a move that seems to be a growing trend in Francophone West Africa. Gabon's presidential spokesman, Alain Claude Billie By Nze, says efforts to adopt English will begin within the educational system, but classes will also be available for adults. He says Gabon is not the first country in the region to move in this direction. He says Rwanda, another African country that formerly called French its official language, made the switch to English in 2009.
Kinshasa: The Francophonie summit of French-speaking countries closed in Kinshasa on Sunday with a pledge to back the host country's territorial integrity but after French President François Hollande had snubbed President Joseph Kabila by meeting his principal opponent and criticising a "lack of democracy" in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
United Nations: The UN Security Council is poised to adopt a draft resolution paving the way for military intervention in Mali Friday, French officials said. The resolution seeks a detailed plan within 30 days from West Africa's ECOWAS regional body, the African Union and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on an international military intervention in Mali in a bid to oust militants from the country's north. Adoption of the text is anticipated for 1900 GMT Friday, the French mission to the United Nations announced via Twitter.