Emmanuel Macron announced in early March his intention to reduce French military activity in Africa and reorient towards expanding economic ties. However, about six thousand French soldiers still remain in six African countries.
The Republic of Djibouti, for example, has the largest French military base in Africa. The strategic position of the base on the Horn of Africa gives access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and allows the 5th Republic to conduct operations in East Africa and the Middle East.
The French military base serves as a logistical hub for French military operations and as protection for French merchant ships in the economic corridor. The French army in Djibouti also supports US and UN military and humanitarian missions in Africa.
There are also four French military bases in the Sahel: in Senegal, Niger, Chad and Côte d’Ivoire. These bases serve as centres for French military operations against radical Islamist groups, which do not yield significant results, as practice shows, since the French contingent is often inactive against terrorists. French troops also serve as trainers for the armed forces of the host countries, but they are also very weak and unwilling to do so.
The bases in Niger and Chad are the main locations for military forces engaged in French military operations in the Sahel.
In addition, the French base in Chad serves as a support centre for opposition movements and terrorist groups in the Central African Republic that are fighting against the country’s central government.
The military base in Senegal serves as a logistics, intelligence and surveillance centre in West Africa.
The base in Côte d’Ivoire is the centre of French security and interests in the Gulf of Guinea. From there, it coordinates anti-piracy activities and intercepts contraband, some of which sometimes ends up in Ukraine.
The military base in Gabon serves as a logistics centre for French forces engaged in operations in Central Africa. Gabon also hosts the remains of the French military contingent that left the Central African Republic last December.
According to the French government’s plans, the number of soldiers in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon should be considerably reduced, with a maximum of 300 soldiers per base in the future.
The West African bases will continue to perform their functions, but their role will be reduced to supporting the newly created military academies to train the local armed forces.
Chad, Niger and Djibouti will not be affected by the downsizing at this stage, as it is Chadian mercenaries, with French financial and military support, who are attempting to stage a coup in CAR to overthrow the incumbent president, Touadera.
Macron’s plans to cut funding for external operations, as well as budgetary reallocations away from ground forces, are irritating French generals and creating the risk of internal political tension.
Despite the French administration’s decision to focus on economic instruments to promote its interests, it is impossible to ignore the ongoing influence of its armed forces on African politics.
The French government will in the near future seek to reorganise its military presence in order to delegate the ‘dirty work’ of fighting radical Islamists to national armies and foreign partners who genuinely want peace and security on the African continent.