French Policy in Africa: A Changing of the Guard

While the western world anticipated the results of the final round of the French presidential elections, Africans and French citizens in Africa watched with just as much interest. In the end, Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing former Interior Minister, defeated socialist Segolene Royal. Mr. Sarkozy’s victory heralds the beginning of new alliances in Africa, where the French, seeking to retain influence with their former colonial contacts, have been at odds with the United States, particularly since the end of the Cold War.

Mr. Sarkozy, the son of a Greek mother with Jewish roots and a Hungarian father, has flaunted the fact he is an ally of America. The self-styled “Sarkozy the American” received warm greetings from Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.1 He first drew U.S. interest due to his unwavering support of Israeli policy. He promised a tough stance against North African Muslim immigrants and West African immigrants, a policy that inflamed the riots that engulfed France in 2005. Human rights groups lobbying for immigrant rights have dennounced Mr. Sarkozy’s policies in the past. One Malian who led anti-Sarkozy rallies commented, “When we heard the news of Sarkozy’s election, we were scared, really scared.”2

Mr. Sarkozy does not share personal relationships with African and Middle Eastern politicians; a hallmark of former French presidents Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterand. He doesn’t see this as a hindrance though, because several African heads of state have already expressed their optimism in his leadership. President Bouteflika of Algeria, a former French colonial state accused of harboring Al-Qaeda,3 hailed Mr. Sarkozy’s victory, as has Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade and the Republic of Congo’s Sassou Nguesso, who is a personal friend of some of Mr. Sarkozy’s business associates. The Republic of Congo is an important player in France’s oil supply.

A more ominous endorsement came from Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) opposition party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who Mr. Sarkozy supported in last year’s presidential elections. After losing that election to incumbent Joseph Kabila and witnessing the MLC fail to gain several key provincial governorships, Mr. Bemba reportedly resorted to planning a coup. According to investigative reporter Wayne Madsen, ex-South African Defense Force soldiers connected to Erinys Limited (subcontracted by the U.S. firm SASI in Iraq) raided an arms warehouse in Maputo, Mozambique. The weapons were delivered to MLC headquarters is Gbadolite via Zambia.4 President Kabila got wind of the plot and his Chief of Staff, General Kissempia, ordered Mr. Bemba’s guard to integrate into the national army. Mr. Bemba refused to comply.

On 22 March, 2007, the Congolese newspaper La Prosperite and online news outlet DigitalCongo (partially funded by President Kabila) Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga was reportedly the victim of an assassination attempt by Mr. Bemba’s brother.5 The U.N.-connected Radio Okapi denied said Mr. Gizenga was simply in an accident with a careless driver.6 Immediately after the Prime Minister was safe, President Kabila’s Republican Guard attacked Mr. Bemba’s militia to force their disarmament and hundreds of innocent people were killed in the process. They reportedly found Congolese army uniforms in the MLC headquarters. It was surmised they were going to commit crimes against civilians while wearing the uniforms to erode public confidence in the army and President Kabila so people would welcome Mr. Bemba when he took power.7 They also found arms caches in Gbadolite. Mr. Bemba fled, unsurprisingly, to the South African embassy. He eventually negotiated a “temporary” withdrawal to Portugal for medical treatment.

Mr. Sarkozy also courts individuals with major business interests in Africa. Almost immediately after his election, he went on vacation in Vincent Bollore’s yacht. Mr. Bollore, who has ties to TotalElfFina, owns the Ballore Group, which controls numerous media outlets Mr. Sarkozy has benefitted from. Mr. Bollore has stakes in numerous African ports and is a close friend of Michel Rousin, the secretary of Alexandre de Marenches, who was the Director of the Service of External Documentation and Counter-Espionage (SEDCE) that later became the General Directorate of External Safety (DGSE).8 TotalElfFina (then Elf) has long been used by the DGSE as a front business to carry out intelligence and covert operations in Africa.

The United States has already called on their new ally. Mr. Sarkozy is heading off to meet Great Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister (and new Ambassador to Africa) Tony Blair. With French involvement against Chadian rebels already in play, the United States, playing off Mr. Sarkozy’s xenophobia of African Muslims, has already asked France to apply diplomatic pressure to the Islamic-run Government of Sudan and the United Nations (U.N.) in order to push for a peacekeeping force in Darfur. If relations improve between the U.S. and France at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), NATO troops may eventually figure into the Darfur peacekeeping plan. France also actively aided the Central African Republic’s government against the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UDFR) who signed a peace treaty last month.

Of great concern to Central Africa is the fate of the arrest warrants issued by French magistrate Jean-Louis Brugiere for Rwandan President Paul Kagame and several of his top military officials. President Kagame has severed all diplomatic ties with the French Government in response. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has officially said they have no jurisdiction to bring any of them to trial for the shooting down of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane, but they still have yet to rule on if they are going to try members of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) for other crimes they committed in 1994. Two of the military officers named in the warrant, General Jack (Jackson) Nziza (Nkrunziza) and General Charles Kayonga, are suing Mr. Brugiere, claiming the arrest warrant has hindered their ability to perform their jobs.

The United States, a staunch ally and supplier for Paul Kagame, would like to see the arrest warrants go away. In the past, the intelligence France provided to the United States on terrorist networks in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and other francophone countries proved to be valuable enough that there were rumors the Republican administration was considering lending tacit support to the arrest warrant. However, once Paul Kagame offered 2,000 soldiers for the A.U. mission in Darfur, he was able to buy himself some time and political leverage. After offering military assistance in Darfur, President George W. Bush personally invited President Kagame to visit the White House in 2005 and 2006, where he praised President Kagame as a “man of action that gets things done.”9 Now, with Mr. Sarkozy in power, the United States may have their proverbial cake and eat it too if Mr. Sarkozy quietly applies pressure to the French judicial system to override the arrest warrants.

The French elections will have worldwide ramifications and the United States could not be happier with the results. They stand not only to gain in Africa, but the European Union (E.U.) as well. With right-wing, pro-American regimes in Europe like Spain and Italy falling like dominoes and President Bush’s closest European ally Tony Blair leaving office, the U.S. needed Mr. Sarkozy’s win badly. Mr. Sarkozy’s elections victory marked a changing of the guard in both Europe and France.

David Barouski is an African Affairs researcher with a focus on Central Africa. He was the co-recipient of a Project Censored award in 2006 and is a regular contibutor to Znet. His work has appeared in Z Magazine, Waheen Online, the Somaliland Times, and Congo Panorama. He is the author of the book, “Laurent Nkundabatware, his Rwandan Allies, and the ex-ANC Mutiny: Chronic Barriers to Lasting Peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” which he traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda to research.

1 “With Sarkozy, Bush May Find a Close Friend in France,” Elaine Sciolino. The New York Times. 7 May 2007.

2 “Sarkozy Sparks Hope and Fear in Africa,” Mail & Guardian. 8 May 2007.

3 “Al-Qaeda’s Far-Reaching Partner,” Craig Whitlock. The Washington Post. 5 October 2006; Al-Qaeda’s Deadly Hand Hangs Over Morocco and Algeria, The Nation. 11 May 2007; Hansen, Andrew. “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (aka Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat).” The Council on Foreign Relations. 11 April 2007.

4 The Wayne Madsen Report. Wayne Madsen. 1 April, 2007.

5 “Le Premier Ministre Antoine Gizenga Echappe à un Attentat,” DigitalCongo 3.0. English Translation. 22 March 2007; “Antoine Gizenga échappe à la mort!,” Marcel Ngoyi. La Prospérité. English Translation. 22 March 2007.

6 “Le Premier Ministre Gizenga Echappe à un Accident de Route,” Radio Okapi. English Translation. 22 March 2007.

7 The Wayne Madsen Report. 1 April 2007.

8 Braeckman, Colette. “Sarkozy au Large de l’Afrique.” The Blog of Colette Braeckman: Le Soir Online. English Translation. 10 May 2007.

9 United States Department of State: Bureau of African Affairs. “Press Release From the Office of the Undersecretary for Political Affairs: President Bush Welcomes President Kagame of Rwanda to the White House.” 31 May 2006.

Leave a comment