France: Still meddling in postcolonial Africa
France is at war in Africa, said Patrick de Saint-Exupéry in Paris' Le Figaro. Last April, we sent troops to Chad to defend the regime of President Idris Déby against rebel attack. This month, as the rebels renew their onslaught, we're again sending help. The aid is not unselfish: Chad is practically a French outpost. A French military base there hosts airplanes and helicopters that France deploys all over East and Central Africa. Even among Chadians, the country is often called "France's airport in the desert." But there's another, even more cynical reason why Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin flew to the Chadian capital last week to reassure Déby of continued French support. Chad just kicked out the U.S. companies that were developing its oil, and French companies are moving in.
Chad isn't the only African country France is propping up, said Vanessa Schneider in Paris' Libération. The French military is also active in the Central African Republic. Both these countries are suffering spillover from the war in Darfur, in neighboring Sudan. All three blame one another—with varying degrees of merit—for sponsoring rebel movements in the others. The entire region is now one huge refugee crisis. "It's not a steady deterioration," Jan Egeland, the outgoing U.N. humanitarian chief, said last week. "It's a free fall, and it includes Darfur, eastern Chad, and northern Central African Republic."
So why don't the French people know anything about this? asked Paris' Le Monde in an editorial. It's very kind of de Villepin to explain to the Chadians why France is "on the front lines" in containing the Sudanese unrest. Yet he has said nothing to his own people. "Not a word to the French. No announcement to the National Assembly. Not even a memo." French Mirage F1 fighter jets have fired directly on rebels in the Central African Republic, and a junior French officer was wounded in the combat. The French deserve to know whether their military is involved in a war and, if so, why. "If a war is legitimate, there's no reason to hide it. If it's illegitimate, there's no reason to wage it."
The French have a history of secret meddling in Africa, said Andrew Wallis in the London Times. It was at the French Embassy in Rwanda in 1994 that Hutu government ministers "meticulously planned" the genocide of the Tutsis. "Witnesses spoke of these ministers, many now facing life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, sitting in plush embassy chairs comparing notes on where the killing was going best." Three months later, after 800,000 Tutsis had been hacked to death by machete, the French ambassador helped evacuate the masterminds to Paris. Why would France do such a thing? Because it had been helping the brutal Hutu regime ever since 1990, when English-speaking Tutsi exiles in Uganda tried to return to their homeland. France always sides with French speakers. So far, "France has been adept at trying to hide this stain on la gloire." But the investigations into the genocide continue. Soon, the truth will be known. "
The Week, December 22, 2006