Africa Says "Au Revoir" to U.S and "Bonjour" to France

Recently, I wrote an article for PolicyMic outlining that China was fast becoming the new power in Africa, arguably because U.S. influence in Africa is declining. Indeed, it is an undeniable and unavoidable fact that U.S. power and influence is in decline throughout the African continent.

During the 20th century, the U.S. was at the height of its influence in Africa, fully supporting the fight by Africa's people for independence from European colonial empires. Today, however, the U.S. finds itself struggling to exert its influence over the continent; the lack of immediate leadership and action on Libya this year is the most contemporary highlight of this. This and the fact that the U.S. is deeply snared in the Middle East and Central Asia points to a downward spiral of decline for U.S. influence in Africa.

Nothing, however, is more symbolic of the decline of U.S. influence in Africa than the growth of influence for a certain country in its dealing with the continent in the past five years. That country, of course, is France.

French military interventions in LibyaChad, and Ivory Coast in the past three years support this growth of French influence. In the case of Libya, France demonstrated its clout through its leadership of the NATO military intervention. Equally, military interventions in Chad and Ivory Coast demonstrate France’s willingness to actively engage when there is a threat to civilian life and its interests. France has also undertaken an active role in the fight against Somalian piracy, ensuring that those who hijack ships face justice. Therefore, through its implementation of military action in scenarios such as these, France has demonstrated its willingness to engage on the continent far more than the U.S. has.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has sought to forge close links with African states, furthering both French interests and multilateral cooperation by making France the go-between on important matters affecting the continent. This is most visible in his dealings with Rwanda, where Sarkozy has sought to rebuild ties with a country whose president has a personal grievance towards France for its role in the 1994 genocide. Indeed, as French civil servant Claude Guéant states, France’s goal is to ensure good relationships with all states in Africa, as: “To count, France must speak to everyone, and she can do that more than other nations can.” This has only produced mixed results in Africa, as a leaked U.S. Embassy cable makes clear; but there can be no doubt that France’s new policy has led to its metamorphosis on the African political stage, displacing the U.S. on the continent. 

France has also increased its investment and aid to African countries. Quite a few of these nations fall beyond what has normally been seen as the usually French sphere of Francophone African countries. Interestingly, South Africa is now a key part of French-African relations, which increasingly attract French investment. This is in stark contrast to the U.S., whose Aid to Africa itself in under threat of being cut. This, coupled with reluctance by U.S. companies and financial institutions to invest in Africa, means that France has an almost unchallenged market to themselves. This in turn greatly increases their influence throughout the continent.

France is now the major Western power in Africa, the contact-nation of choice and, in some instances, the nation that is willing to put its armed forces to work to resolve complicated situations. Under Nicolas Sarkozy, France has ceased to be a bystander in foreign policy and become a leading nation in international affairs, specifically ones tied to Africa. This has only been possible because the U.S. has, in the past decade, focused its attention elsewhere in other regions of the world. This lack of attention has allowed France to extend its reach and influence in Africa to fill the gap and become the most influential Western power on the continent, whilst U.S. influence in Africa ebbs quietly away into the night.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Will Birch

Specialising in Maghreb affairs, William has lived and traveled throughout the MENA region.

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