The increasingly intense French-Russian competition in Africa, especially most recently over Mali, has raised questions about whether Paris should even be seeking to contain Moscow’s influence on the continent in the first place. The Eurasian Great Power’s security assistance to those Hybrid War-beleaguered states that request its “Democratic Security” (counter-Hybrid War tactics and strategies) support could in theory complement the Western European one’s conventional efforts to stabilize its partners from shared threats like terrorism.
Instead, France considers such Russian initiatives as part of a zero-sum game due to the fears that Moscow is trying to chip away at its influence in “Françafrique”, which refers to the formerly French-colonized swath of Africa that Paris regards as its exclusive “sphere of influence”. This perspective is counterproductive since it’s thus far only resulted in the further exacerbation of their competition in ways which reinforce the local perception that France is behaving in a neo-colonial manner, which in turn presents Russia as a better partner.
Furthermore, the increasingly intense competition between these two Great Powers risks destabilizing Africa even more than it already is. This will especially be the case if France supports Chadian efforts to push back against Russian influence in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Libya, to say nothing of backing possible Color Revolutions against Russian-friendly governments like Mali’s in the Sahel. It’s therefore counterproductive to all stakeholders if France and its partners wage Hybrid War against Russian interests in “Françafrique”.
It’s extremely unlikely that France will ever truly “lose” “Françafrique” due to the deeply rooted cultural, economic, historical, institutional, linguistic, and strategic connections between it and those countries. Russian engagement with Africa is mostly limited to the power generation, resource extraction, and security spheres. It’s accordingly incapable of completely replacing French influence in those states. The CAR is an exception though since Russia is experimenting with “nation-rebuilding” there, but this model hasn’t been exported.
By contrast, France’s Mediterranean rival Turkey poses a much more comprehensive threat to the Western European Great Power’s interests in “Françafrique” than Russia would ever be capable of doing. Unlike Moscow’s very limited means of engagement with Africa, Ankara’s are extremely vast and build upon the religious connections that it shares with many of the continent’s people, especially those in the majority-Muslim countries that comprise “Françafrique”.
In particular, Turkey is actively expanding its diplomatic and economic influence through the building of new embassies/consulates and the provisioning of developmental assistance to the continent’s many countries that are most in need of it. Turkey also has an impressive military appeal in Africa that’s attributable to the formidable nature of its friendly forces in and of themselves and the high quality of its cost-effective arms exports. Although Russia’s newfound influence in Africa is important, it doesn’t compare to Turkey’s.
France is actively trying to contain its Mediterranean rival in the Levant and North Africa. The first-mentioned front has seen Paris attempt to assemble a US-backed anti-Turkish coalition comprised of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, and “Israel”. Armenia, despite being Russia’s CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union ally, has been flirting much more with France since its devastating loss during last year’s Karabakh War and could thus be considered a potential member of this emerging French-led coalition.
On the North Africa front, France supports Libyan Field Marshal Haftar’s rebel “Libyan National Army” against the country’s Turkish-backed internationally recognized authorities in Tripoli. Although the conflict there reached a military stalemate after Ankara’s daring military intervention in its ally’s support, tensions still remain acute and could lead to the renewal of all-out warfare if they aren’t carefully managed. It’s worth noting that Paris also cooperates with the GCC in Libya, though this bloc is recently exploring a rapprochement with Turkey.
Although Russia is also reported be supporting Haftar, there’s no evidence that it’s coordinating its supposed efforts with France. Be that as it may, they’re still allegedly on the same side in the Libyan Civil War opposite Turkey so this observation could possible be used as the starting point for regulating their increasingly intense competition across Africa. It might also be leveraged by Russia’s world-class diplomats in such a way as to prove the fact that their country doesn’t actually pose any threat to French interests there.
On the contrary, they might draw attention whether directly or by inference to the much more intense French-Turkish competition across the Mediterranean which is also creeping into Africa too as was earlier explained. By making it clear that Moscow cannot compete with Paris in “Françafrique” anywhere near the same comprehensive level that Ankara has already proven that it’s capable of, Russian diplomats might be able to positively shift French perceptions in the direction of no longer regarding them as a zero-sum security threat.
The outcome of this factually based “perception management” initiative could be two-fold: France might enter into a rapprochement with Russia in Africa or at the very least agree to a so-called “non-aggression pact” for more responsibly regulating their competition there; and/or Paris might (then) redirect/balance its “containment” efforts on the continent against Ankara. Both of these interconnected outcomes would be in Russia’s strategic interests by relieving French pressure upon it and thus comparatively stabilizing Africa.
To be absolutely clear, Russia has no intentions of pitting France against Turkey in order to divide and rule Africa in pursuit of its own ends, but France might naturally seek to “contain” Turkey there if it comes to realize that Russia isn’t truly its rival but could be an effective security partner. Furthermore, the increasingly intense French-Turkish competition in the Mediterranean might soon naturally spill over into Africa. Since France has limited means like all countries do, it might choose to prioritize containing Turkey instead of Russia there.
What’s needed at this crucial juncture is for France to soberly assess the strategic situation as it objectively exists without perceiving of it through US-influenced New Cold War filters. Continuing to seek the “containment” of Russian influence in Africa, especially with Chad as the tip of Paris’ spear in this respect, would greatly destabilize “Françafrique” and could even compel Russia to team up with Turkey there. France can prevent this worst-case scenario by respecting Russia’s African interests and concentrating more on Turkey.
Source: One World