The French Military in Africa since Rwanda: Neocolonial Trustee to Legitimate Multilateral Partner?

14 December 2018 - 15 December 2018

SG1 and SG2, Alison Richard Building

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Stefano Recchia (University of Cambridge)



France is the only European country that still regularly deploys its military forces on combat missions to Sub-Saharan Africa (whether in Mali, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, or the Central African Republic). While French government officials justify these military interventions as contributions to peacekeeping and regional stabilization within a United Nations framework, critics argue that France uses its continuing military presence to wield political influence and maintain its former African colonies in a subaltern relationship to Paris. This conference will bring together historians, political scientists, and policy experts for a high-level discussion of related questions. 

Once France lost its African colonies in the 1960s, its continued ability to project military power on the continent and influence political events there remained central to its self-perception and international recognition as a great power. After the end of the Cold War, however, France’s heavy-handed interference in its former African colonies was increasingly questioned (both internationally and domestically), as norms on military intervention changed, the burden on French taxpayers resulting from these military operations became difficult to justify, and several African countries experienced a period of often turbulent transitions towards democracy. The traumatic experience of Rwanda, in particular, where the French military had supported a radical Hutu regime that carried out a genocide in 1994, threatened to undermine France’s influence on the continent and thus one of the key pillars of France’s great-power status. Since the mid-1990s, France’s Africa policy has been less overtly neo-colonial, emphasizing peacebuilding and local empowerment, as well as multilateral cooperation through the United Nations and the European Union. Conference participants will zero in on the following question: Have recent changes in France’s Africa policy been primarily cosmetic, or have French foreign policy elites instead fundamentally rethought their country’s role in Africa, increasingly abandoning former neo-colonial relationships in favour of more legitimate multilateral partnerships?



Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), and the European Commission (Marie Curie Career Integration Grant).