France on the march: More troops are being sent to former African colonies

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France, for some as yet unclear set of reasons, appears to be re-engaging militarily on an increasing level in its former African colonies.

It sent thousands of troops to Mali in 2012 and to the Central African Republic in 2013 for slightly different reasons but, basically, to restore order and to keep those two countries from coming apart. In Mali, its own armed forces had failed to bring under control rebellions in the north that involved both ethnic Tuaregs and Islamic extremists. Rebel forces were armed with weapons flowing out of Libya after the United States, France and the United Kingdom cooperated with Libyan rebels to overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The disintegration of authority in Mali was hastened by a military coup d’etat there, led by an American-trained officer.

Trouble in the Central African Republic came from a Muslim militia that overthrew the government of the majority Christian country, leading to Christian vs. Muslim conflict and the displacement of perhaps half the population. The French again put thousands of troops in to calm matters. The lid still isn’t on, but relative peace and tranquility are currently being preserved there by 8,000 French and African peacekeeping forces.

France has now decided to put a 3,000-strong force permanently in five of its former colonies, in a band across West and Central Africa to include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Headquarters will be in the Chadian capital, Ndjamena. The force will include helicopters, armor, transport and fighter aircraft and drones.

France’s motivation in augmenting its military forces in Africa isn’t clear. To critics it looks a lot like neocolonialism. Some say France is strengthening its military forces in Africa to back up its commercial presence there in the face of increasing competition from China.

Others see it as President Francois Hollande, who continues to suffer from stunningly low popularity figures, seeking to present himself to the French as a more inspiring, aggressive leader. Unpopular African leaders in these countries may appreciate the augmented French military support. Other Africans, more concerned with sustaining African independence, may find the presence of French troops in the capitals disquieting.

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