As the world and the European Union casts its gaze on the destabilizing situation in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv in Ukraine, it reaffirms once more that international awareness could only be shaped by great power politics. In this case, it is the underhand tussle between the eagle, the bull and the bear. Ukraine becomes in a sense the piece of meat that these three animals strive to fight for. The end result would depend on how hungry are they in desiring this piece of meat. On the other hand, the impending gaze is such that a continent above the rest continues to be forgotten. The Dark Continent today remains a conflicted and unknown land, plagued with corrupted regimes and propensity towards violence. Today, while hundreds of pro-Russian protesters stormed more government buildings in Donetsk, thousands of Muslims from Central African Republic (CAR) fled their homes as their purported saviour drop their arms against the ongoing violence. The Chadian military gave up its intervention after many died in its firefight against the anti-balaka Christian militias. Together with the withdrawal were thousands of Muslims from CAR in hope of escaping an untimely demise under the hands of the Christians.
In the Dark Continent, chaos reigns. But the spear of light never shines far from darkness. The chevaliers in the tricolour cloaks come galloping down from the North despite its supposed forgotten position; the knights of France must act today on behalf of the European Union in the sustenance of peace and order in the third-world, especially its own backyard. The Dark Continent always has a special position in the French government, and the European Union today is compelled to do the same. Traditionally, France have had an extensive record in intervening militarily in the African continent. From 1962 to 1995, France has enacted 19 unilateral military operations in African states, and more if the UN missions were to be included. France concluded a total of 23 military agreements with the various Francophone African states as of 1995 and has deployed garrison forces in at least 6 African states, the most significant being Djibouti and Senegal. How, and why did France become the shining knight in the dark?
Unlike most French colonies in other parts of the world, the impact of nationalist leaders were less influential in the independence of most African states. On the contrary, they were given up based on the ‘goodwill’ of the French government and subsequently a rapid establishment of personal relationships between the African ruling elites and their French counterparts ensued. In the French government, the presidency holds immense power with regards to the affairs in Africa. While in general the foreign relations of France falls under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the presidency upholds several para-institutional agencies that deal specifically with Africa, such as the Africa Bureau and the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). These agencies are set apart from the ministry and has certain autonomy empowered by the president. This individualistic nature of African affairs in French government is further reinforced by traditional informal networks among the African leaders, French presidents and influential businessmen. Years of friendships and informal relationships have created a sense of brotherhood between the Francophonies, whereby African leaders within this network look expectantly to France to bring solutions to all their national problems. Both the laymen and the elites alike look favourably to the prospect of French patrols along the streets of Bangui.
More importantly, the tricolour heritage has a special meaning and memory to the French. While Greece was the founder of democracy, France was the beacon for liberty and equality during the French Revolution. In the post-colonial era, French leaders envisioned themselves as a power that could be independent of the United States and also the Soviet Union. French president Charles De Gaulle believed strongly that France had a historical role in the world; that it was the carrier of universal values and it was exceptional. Nicholas Sarkozy integrated the European Union into his game plan. “What France wants to do with Africa is to prepare for the advent of Eurafrica, this great common destiny that awaits Europe and Africa,” and so he said. The mandate of the European Union has been increasingly intertwined with the destiny of France’s national ambition. The European Union wants to be seen increasingly as both a viable security actor through the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and possessing autonomous capacity in crisis management. Meanwhile, having suffered from the repercussions of intervening in Rwanda in complicity with gross humanitarian violations, France uses the European Union to revamp its credentials globally. The European Union provides France with the legitimacy that it has somewhat lost, while France provides the arm that propels the CSDP forward.
Truly truly, as the focus of Ukrainian woes keep up, the bull might find itself increasingly tied up in a protracted standoff with the bear. But the bull will go away, aware that if it cannot fight off the bear, its prestige in the pack would still be intact as the eager protector of the okapi. The conflicts of Africa will continue to provide opportunities for the European Union to export its humanitarian concerns and ideals, and for France to assert its influence and its importance in perhaps forgotten, yet critical international issues such as the African continent.