The triple legitimacy of Operation Sangaris
There can be no doubt that a series of French interventions in Africa, especially following the decolonisation process in this part of the world, were driven by illegitimate neo-colonialist politics. They in turn had disastrous consequences; the Rwandan genocide is a well-known example. However, the traumatism of these events cannot obscure the judgement of an informed political observer. The legitimacy of the Operation Sangaris is based upon and can be derived from three domains.
Humanitarian urgency and consent for intervention
Without a doubt, the outbreak of a third civil war in the Central African Republic, between the rebel forces of Seleka and the anti-balakas, is a humanitarian disaster: with more than 1 000 dead since the beginning of the intervention the 5th of December, the numbers speak for themselves. This situation explains the call for help from the African Union, deployed in the CAR under the auspices of The African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (French acronym in use, MISCA). And the action of MISCA requires the support of the international community. If France is ready to offer this support, it is useless to search for the traces of neo-colonialism in its motivation to help to carry out the MISCA mission. The humanitarian intervention’s legitimacy is based upon the urgency of situation.
An intervention within the framework of international law
The urgency of situation doesn’t make France forget about the necessity to base its actions upon international law (a legal necessity often not respected by military interventions by the way). Resolution 2127, voted unanimously by the Security Council of the United Nations on the 5th of December, allows France to take “all the necessary measures” to support the MISCA mission in its military dimension. The mandate of the operation is therefore framed and limited. But is this limitation sufficient to assure that France does not abuse of its mandate to promote a political agenda? It is too early to decide this question just yet. The fact is that France has no interest in supporting a political transition in the country. Additionally, the expected duration of the French intervention is only six months (half the time of MISCA’s action) and the military resources committed to the execution of the mandate appear to be proportional to the mission. Therefore, France does not seem to extend its mission to other goals.
This is further reinforced by the promise made by United Nations (UN) about the examination of the possibility of launching a UN operation of peace maintenance in the CAR ,in the upcoming months. Such a UN mission could take over the relay from the joint MISCA-France interventions. The international character of these operations shows clearly that the CAR intervention exceeds the question of legitimizating French actions.
François Hollande, the driving force behind the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)?
The Sangaris operation allows the French President, François Hollande, to promote the interests of the European Union in two respects. Firstly, the EU lacks a strategic vision concerning its relations with Africa, which is particularly harmful to its interests, because of the rising Chinese influence in the region. Hollande’s action resuscitated the debate about this question on a European level. The debate is focused on financing, since the French President proposed to create a “European permanent fund, financing missions for the security of the African continent”. Secondly and maybe more importantly, a common position concerning Operation Sangaris would allow the EU to affirm its symbolical unity and political activity in the field of international relations.
There is little place for “good intentions” in politics. Any reflexion about the legitimacy of a military intervention has to consider the principal motivations behind international relations in general: self-interests of single States. Those interests have to be considered on a common European scale.
This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.
A neo-colonialist intervention driven by geostrategic and economical goals
“Françafrique”, is a very eloquent French expression. Once more, France assumes the role of the police of Africa to protect its own interest, not those of Africans. By its multiple military operations, France maintains a certain grip on its ancient colonies and doesn’t allow them to achieve a real sovereign status.
Important economic interests
Some could argue that France's economic interest in the CAR are not so important, given that commercial exchanges between the two countries amount only to 50 million euros a year. But we cannot forget the geographic proximity of states like Congo, Tchad, Gabon and Camerun – those states are of a strong economic interest for the French, mainly because of their abundant natural resources, being exploited by French multinational, Total. By intervening in the CAR, France is defending its privileged position in region. By its central position, the CAR could endanger French interests. If the war destabilised the country and order was not re-established, anarchy in this state would allow many rebels hostile to France, especially islamists, to settle in region. Such instability would obviously endanger the long-term economic interests of France.
(Re)conquest of Africa
Through its military interventions in the CAR and in many other African states, France seeks to consolidate its position in Africa against an increasing number of countries like China, the USA and even Brazil, all longing for African resources. In fact, these states strengthen their economic and diplomatic relations with Africa by regularly organising summits with African countries. By the means of its military strength, France wants to stay the partner number one for French-speaking African countries, and cannot afford to leave its interests to other world powers. In addition, France assumes the role of “the policeman of Africa” so that it can keep its place in the UN Security Council.
It should also be noted that the Summit of Elysée, organised in Paris between 6th and 7th of December 2013, about peace and security in Africa, took place right after a meeting at Bercy (where the Ministry of Finance is located). This time the gathering was organised by the French Ministry of Finances and MEDEF, (Mouvement des entreprises en France), a trade union representing the directors of French enterprises. About six hundred leading business managers participated and their wish to conquer new African markets was clearly expressed.
A fake humanitarian intervention
The humanitarian justification does not hold. It can be logically assumed that an intervention driven by economic and geostrategic goals, even when accompanied by good intentions, does not amount to a humanitarian success, given the fact that its not the primary goal of the operation.
But the problem is even more profound. As a matter of fact, French general policy concerning Africa scarifies the region's stability and development only to benefit French interests. Military and diplomatic relations between France and the French-speaking part of Africa only make the regional political and humanitarian crises worse. It ienough to take a look at the list of participants at the Parisian summit of 6th and 7th of December. Guests included Blaise Compaoré who has been endorsed by France ever since he came to power in Burkina Faso in 1987, after the assassination of Thomas Sankara, who openly opposed French hegemony in Africa. Amongst other guests we could also find Idriss Déby who has lead Tchad since 1990 and Denis Sassou Nguesso, leader of Congo since 1979. By supporting the African dictators and imposing a power of dubious legitimacy, (latest example is in Mali, where the electoral procedure was imposed too abruptly, without any consultation of Malians, and the renewal of political class remained very limited), France assures its interests but increases African instability and contributes to maintenance of illegitimate regimes that can eventually be overthrown by violence at any moment.
A political tightrope
Central Africa is no exception to this observation. The François Bozizéwho, came to power in as a result of a coup was supported by France from 2003 to 2013, even to the point of sending troops in 2006 to help him fight against the rebels, directed by Michel Djotodia his historical opponent. He was received at the Elysee Palace (official residence of the French President) in 2007. In 2010, France adopted a defense partnership with the CAR, at a time when the CAR army institutions were about to collapse. This ardent support of a dictator only nourished the civil war : rebels doubled violence and ended up by chasing F. Bozizé out of power by proclaiming M.Djotodia the President of the Republic on the 25th of March 2013.
France appears to be balancing on a political tightrope. It gives its support to dictators who collaborate with France, admitting and assuming the risk of a civil war lead by the despots' opponents, then it intervenes when the troubles becomes too important and start damaging its hegemony. Civil conflicts are secondary effects of French domination, which are only beaing dealt with when they risk to weaken the French powergrip on the region.
It is unlikely that the African situation can evolve positively as long as Western powers don’t allow economic independence to their ex-colonies and as long as they turn a blind eye to the presence of dictatorial powers in order to defend their own interests.