How It Ends in Guinea

The junta in Guinea has accused French intelligence agents of orchestrating the assassination attempt on strongman Capt. Moussa Camara that led to Camara seeking urgent surgical intervention in Morocco. France has “energetically denied” the rumors, which is not surprising, but not necessarily very convincing, either.

In the meantime, the French ambassador was subjected to a “muscular” search by Guinean armed forces on his way to the airport, with his bodyguards forced aside under threat of RPGs. France has vehemently protested the incident, which is not surprising, but pretty convincing.

In particular, I’d be very surprised if the French troops stationed in nearby Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal are not on high alert. France already advised its nationals to leave Guinea in October, but repatriation of nationals under threat is one of the scenarios for which the French army maintains its bases in Africa.

This could shape up to be a test of just how much President Nicolas Sarkozy has turned the page on Françafrique, the term used to refer to France’s neo-colonial sphere of influence. The days of overt unilateral intervention in African domestic politics are supposedly over. In Cote d’Ivoire in 2002, for instance, the French military was deployed uniquely to safeguard French nationals under threat, and was followed immediately by a call for U.N. involvement to multilateralize any stabilization operations. And more recently, in Chad in 2008, France provided intelligence support to the Chadian forces under attack by insurgents, but otherwise remained on the sidelines.

Also significant in watching how this develops is the broader context in terms of France’s military base posture in Africa. Sarkozy had promised to reduce the number of bases from four to two. The argument against doing so was based on the need for pre-positioned forces to respond to the kind of situation that arose in Cote d’Ivoire in 2002.

As it turns out, that decision has been quietly walked back since France published it’s Defense White Paper in 2008. But it will be interesting to see, in the event that Guinea follows the Cote d’Ivoire scenario, whether it is more explicitly buried for good.

Either way, though, should tensions boil over and any French nationals be put at risk, don’t be surprised to see a very rapid, and effective, French military intervention.