French failure in Mali, French elections & Russian affinity
Though it is uncertain for how long France will continue to have a stronghold on Mali, the French elections may have implications for the future of foreign policy.
Is Francafrique dead? It should be.
Francafrique. A word used by the first president of Ivory Coast, who stood for independence from its colonizer while also advocating for a close relationship with them. Does that account for a pivotal case of Stockholm Syndrome, or is it simply how imperialism works?
France and Belgium, both French-speaking colonizers, have their sphere of influence stretched out in African countries, even after they have given them what they call "independence." It's the 21st century - traditional colonization is out, and France superscribes to neo-colonial strategies: drowning African countries in unpayable debt, privatizing local resources while pledging profits to local lackeys, funding extremism, keeping populations under the mercy of hyper-corrupt governments, and liberalizing African economies to the point of extreme poverty and starvation.
Mali has recognized this, and ever since the junta has taken control of the Malian government in a coup d'etat, ties with the West – and France in particular – have been strained, the junta won public opinion, and has condemned ECOWAS sanctions.
The French failure
Since 2013, Mali has been protesting against French intervention in their country, demanding Paris stay out of Mali’s domestic affairs, particularly after Operation Serval was launched – supported by NATO, Chad, and the UAE. This was followed by Operation Barkhane, a large-scale operation to "end terrorism."
After 9 years and plenty of international support, France has failed in allegedly “containing Islamist terrorists,” especially when on November 25, 2019, two French helicopters, the Tigre and the Cougar, collided and killed 13 French soldiers in northern Mali. This was the heaviest loss of life for the French military since the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings. The incident was a motive for Macron’s decision to withdraw the troops.
How worse could it get for France? Bamako warms up to Moscow
While the Malian government has been pushing back against Paris, demanding it withdraw its forces “without delay,” Bamako has also been renewing its military ties with Moscow. They’ve recently been receiving Russian combat helicopters and weapons as part of an agreement signed in 2020.
Upon the dawn of the war in Ukraine which started on February 24, Mali was one of the many countries which abstained from voting on a UN resolution that calls on Russia to “stop its invasion of Ukraine and withdraw its forces" at a time when NATO is coercing governments to join the sanctions against Moscow, canceling those who have not yet condemned Russia.
France strikes a balance, or at least tries to
To lose Mali is absurd, but to follow NATO interests against Russia in both contexts is plain insane - for a number of reasons.
France lost Mali – politically and popularly. At the same time, though NATO is at an undeclared war with Russia in Ukraine, France, though internally, acknowledges that it is almost impossible for the European continent to live without Moscow.
While it would seem that the best course of action for France would be to keep Russia close, rather than allowing the giant to drift towards China – that would be disastrous to the West, who from their vision will see two economic giants gang up against the US and their allies. Paris would benefit much more from keeping Moscow on their side, materially speaking.
Saving face: Macron, Le Pen, and Africa
With the protests in Mali that have increasingly delegitimized French presence in the country, Paris felt increasingly compelled to save face by withdrawing its forces and switching up its foreign policy. However, the events have implications for their domestic policies too.
It’s time to be real. Not one of the popular candidates isn’t a self-proclaimed racist. The very core of Frenchism is highly related to racism. Europe wouldn't be Europe if it weren't for the blood-drenched labor of Africans.
They’re all bigots – Macron, Le Pen, and Zemmour (though Zemmour is losing his popularity), which leaves us to compare Emmanuel Macron, the supposed liberal, to right-wing Marine Le Pen.
Just a few months back, we got a glimpse of how Macron really feels about his former French colonies. In one instance, he denied the existence of Algeria before the French came and did what they did (namely mass murder, mass rape, mass theft, and so on). This sparked outrage in the north African nation and caused a diplomatic crisis between the two. Now, with the Russian oil crisis happening due to Western sanctions on Moscow, Europe looks for an alternative – and who has it? Algeria. Paris has been making nice again because it’s going to have an exceptionally cold winter if it doesn’t.
However, French apparent arrogance has only been driving the African continent away. Last year, Macron hosted the Montpellier conference “devoted to Africa’s and France’s young people, who are every day building the future of France and Africa’s relationship.” There was not one African head of state present at the conference. Macron, in the name of strategic and economic interests, collaborates with dictators while preaching democracy.
On another occasion, Macron, at a G20 summit in 2017, contended that most of Africa’s issues are “civilizational,” divulging that there is not much point in spending billions on a continent where there are “7 or 8 children per woman.”
With the view that Black women are simply baby-bearing machines whose society is not worth spending a penny on, one could only conclude that at the heart of the French conscience is the “civilizational mission,” where White leads the light of morality and civility, whereas Black is barbaric, primitive and secondary.
This rhetoric has driven and is driving Africans away from France.
Though still blatantly racist, Marine Le Pen has a different approach. She, for the past years on the political scene, has been focusing on domestic affairs more than actual foreign policy, in an attempt to isolate France from European decisions. Last Friday, she advocated ending France's weapons manufacturing cooperation with Germany due to holding different visions towards the future of European security.
In terms of foreign policy, she shares similar opinions with that of her competitor, Jean-Luc Melenchon – that France is better off without its alliance with NATO. Le Pen advocates against getting tangled up “in wars that aren’t ours” – and she’s right at that – and thus should cancel France’s NATO membership. That may pose one of the biggest threats to the alliance given the power and influence Paris has in international affairs.
However, this does not make Le Pen a good Samaritan of any sort. Yes, the National Rally candidate wants to cut ties with the EU and NATO, but Le Pen has nonetheless constantly emphasized strengthening strategic "partnerships" with former colonies, including Chad, Cameroon, and Mali. In 2017, she spoke of rebranding ties with said countries, while maintaining a “non-interventionist” approach, such as continuing to provide development aid and keeping a military presence (you’re supposed to laugh).
Unless Africans come to realize that the French will not change, they will keep alternating between presidents, feeding on illusions of change and coming independence.
French foreign policy is a projection of an exploitative French history. Unless some miracle happens, it will never respect any African country’s sovereignty.
Will the French election results change the miserable situation of the planet’s richest continent (we're still talking about Africa)? Probably not. But what we do know is that the more French talk, the more the people build awareness. The further driven away they are from Paris, the closer they are to the decolonization process.