France: Back to Africa

From the BBC’s West Africa analyst, Paul Melly, today:

Central African Republic crisis: Another French intervention?
A fresh crisis in Africa – and once again French troops are on their way. This time around 1,000 extra soldiers are heading to the Central African Republic (CAR) to restore order after a rebel takeover. They will supplement the 400 odd French troops already on the ground in the country.

So what’s new? Is this just a case of Paris once again acting as gendarme in a former sub-Saharan colony?

Are we back to the days when the famously influential Jacques Foccart acted as Africa adviser in the Elysee Palace and French paratroops made and unmade governments, protecting allies – some of them deeply unsavoury – and displacing supposed troublemakers?

[…]

But the temptation to reach for old history should be resisted. We are not in the 1970s. Africa has changed. And so has France.

This piece is a very solid and detailed look at the major shift in Africa policy undertaken by the Socialists during the 1990s and then again since 2012. Nicolas Sarkozy, a conservative from the UMP, also made contributions in the same direction — but his less diplomatic approach toward interventions angered many African leaders, whereas François Hollande works closely with regional leaders to get their approval prior to going into Mali, earlier this year.

Sarkozy’s biggest achievement, however, was crucial: ending France’s official support for “incumbent regimes” in Africa friendly toward France. Now, bad is bad and no dictators are automatically safe.

Further background on the situation in the Central African Republic: AFD Episode 65 and Episode 60.

US setting up Niger drones base

President Obama is sending 100 US military personnel to Niger, to set up an aerial surveillance drones base at a Nigerien military airfield for the purposes of assisting French operations in northern Mali (as previously announced). The troops will be armed for their own security, but they will not be in a combat zone. Niger, which borders Mali, has faced some of the same issues with its separatist Tuareg population in the Sahel zones of the country. The nation is quite poor and not especially resource-rich, like Mali, with the major exception that it has extensive (if recently dwindling) uranium mines in the north. France recently deployed special forces to protect the Nigerien uranium mines during the intervention in Mali following a retaliatory hostage crisis in Algeria at an oil refinery. 80% of French electricity in nuclear-generated and much of the requisite uranium comes from Niger. Both Niger and Mali are former French colonies.

AFD Ep 37 – Immigration and Cyberwars

“AFD Ep 37 – Immigration and Cyberwar”
Posted: Tues, 05 Feb 2013
Play Now
Description: Bill and Sasha discuss recent unusual developments in Congressional races and then examine the push for immigration reform. Then Bill looks at the NY Times report on the new classified cyber warfare policy review from the Obama Administration, before updating us on the situation in Mali (and neighboring Niger).

AFD Ep 36 – Progress Small and Large

Posted: Tues, 29 Jan 2013
Play Now
Description: Bill updates us on the Senate rules reform, discusses a strange Federal Appeals Court decision, talks to guest commentator Sasha about women in combat, covers a proposal to change the Electoral College to help Republicans, looks at protests in Egypt, discusses the tragic loss of the Timbuktu libraries this week, and previews the coming immigration reform battle in Congress.

AFD Ep 35 – A Second Inauguration

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

“AFD Ep 35 – A Second Inauguration”
Posted: Mon, 21 Jan 2013

Description: Bill discusses President Obama’s second inauguration with guest Neal Carter. Former co-host Kelley checks in to talk about her upcoming service with the Peace Corps. Bill looks at the Republican defeat on the debt ceiling and what it signals for the next two years, and then explains more about the crisis in Mali. Finally, Bill offers some thoughts on the future broadly.

What should the longer objectives be in Mali?

French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)The Economist ran what I believe to be a fairly reasonable editorial on the French & African-led UN interventions in Mali. They argue that the intervention should be limited to driving the jihadist groups out of the northern cities (but not getting dragged into a quagmire by trying in vain to stomp out an insurgency in the semi-desert “wastelands” through force) and to stabilizing the interim government in the south and freeing it from the shadow of the military officials who overthrew the elected government last spring.

If the Islamist rebels are prevented from seizing the south and forced out of the northern cities, and if serious efforts are made to improve governance (and hopefully provide economic redress to longtime northern grievances that allowed a window for the jihadists to outflank the secular rebels), then Mali will be on a safer footing and the West will be less fearful of it becoming a terrorist safe-haven in West Africa, which in turn means less future interference. The total incompetence and lust for power of the Malian Army is largely to blame for the current situation and the need for an intervention; had the Army not tried to overthrow a twenty-year-old democracy during a tantrum over their own inability to beat back a poorly organized rebellion despite American counterinsurgency training and funding, the northern rebels (first secular, then Islamist) would not have been able to take sweeping control over extensive territory, and the Islamist threat would have been more imagined than real. That said, the United States and the other Western powers should never have let the situation get this far by ignoring the poverty and real tensions that provoked the latest of many northern rebellions, and they should not have relied so heavily on a southern government that was unprepared for any real military response let alone a multifaceted engagement strategy to prevent rebellion at all.

In the future, I hope we consider providing more humanitarian aid to the region, but I fear the rise of the real Islamists there will preclude that even more so now than when the alleged Islamists who were actually secular separatists were the dominant regional faction against the government. During the Cold War, we used the Marshall Plan to rapidly alleviate poverty and strengthen moderate socialist and Social Democratic parties in Western and Central Europe — to prevent the spread of communism — by providing humanitarian aid and institution-building aid in the aftermath of World War II. The Soviets tried to do the same in reverse, but this was trickier for them given their own economic problems. Islamic political parties in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia have built supporter networks rapidly in impoverish regions not with talk of waging war on infidels but by providing humanitarian services, non-governmental shadow institutions, and jobs to people who are ignored, unemployed, and hungry. In Europe, we were willing to buy out reasonable Socialists and their constituents to halt the spread of communism and advertise American/capitalist economic benefits. Instead of replicating this extremely successful policy in the Middle East and Africa, we have opted nine times out of ten to isolate, ignore, or repress political Islam, even when it is relatively moderate, yet we do not offer any comparable alternative humanitarian aid, institutional aid, or employment, let alone offer any loyalty buyouts of these parties.

Ultimately, I suppose the Western powers pay for this strategy choice in lost troops, terrorist attacks, and fighter planes that cost far more (and do so for a longer period) than aid and investments would. It’s also too bad that voters don’t see the merits and payoff of an alternative strategy and keep saying they want to reduce foreign aid even further. But at the end of the day, we need our leaders to lead, advocate, and educate the public. That’s something most of them just aren’t doing.