French politics / International

Hollande, commander in chief

francois hollande mali 11 janvier 2013François Hollande officialised, on the last Saturday, the envoy of French troops in Mali, responding the request of the Mali’s government to stop the progression of Islamist groups currently occupying the North part of the country. The French intervention was positively welcomed by the opinion, the Malian community in France and the Malian people.

The French President militarily involved his country, becoming commander in chief for the first time. A way for François Hollande to re-affirm his authority but also his credibility internationally and especially in Africa.

There is a double and risky challenge for Hollande: helping Mali to recover its territorial integrity without giving the impression this is a new French political intervention in Sub-Saharan Africa. For information, other countries as the United States and United Kingdom back the French military intervention and Niger recently announced the envoy of a 500 men-contingent.

The French president became a commander in chief in the framework of a hazardous military operation. The success of the military intervention is going to depend on its rapidity and its efficiency but intervening in Black Africa is not so obvious and if the struggle against religious fanaticism and terrorism is a heavy argument, it seems clear Hollande will be judged on the final outcome in a short then long term.

Indeed, although all the French political parties (excepted the Jean Luc Mélenchon Front de gauche and some ecologist leaders) welcomed the decision made by the French president, everyone is expecting the first results to comment positively as negatively the François Hollande’s strategy. The French president is aware of that and is playing on the war in North-Mali a part of his credibility and knows that the more the conflict will last, the less it will be backed and accepted by the French people. What is more, this new intervention of the French army points out a certain contradiction in the Elysée Africa’s policy in which African states are regarded as equal partners with France and have to be in situation and in capacity to solve their own internal problems.

Nonetheless, sending French troops in Mali, François Hollande is giving the impression he is denying a principle he evocated at Dakar during his last official visit on the last summer. An impression it is needed to nuance insofar as it’s the Mali’s government who requested France to intervene and this intervention is taking place in the framework of the United Nations. During a long time, the French president was clearly in favour for an “internal” solution that is to say, a resolution of the conflict by the Malian authorities with the neighbour countries. But face with the incapacity of these countries to defend the integrity of their own territories vis-à-vis the AQMI movement (the Al-Qaieda Maghreb’s branch), François Hollande has no other solutions that activating the military cooperation agreements, involving France in Africa.

Malian people demonstrating and demanding the France's intervention to stop the Islamist group progression in North-Mali, the 12th of October

Malian people demonstrating and demanding the France’s intervention to stop the Islamist group progression in North-Mali, the 12th of October

It is too soon to know if such an intervention will be effective and especially useful, because if, in theory, the Surval operation should be determinant to fight the djihadist groups, it is still risky for the French president, politically speaking even if he has no other alternatives or solutions. Nonetheless, appearing as a commander in chief – in the framework of the French Constitution and as his communication has indicated for some hours – François Hollande hopes to embody the image of a determined man to ensure some French people who are wondering with legitimacy on his global political strategy.