Crisis management and long-term strategy: French president Francois Hollande must juggle both priorities right now as he seeks to develop a sustainable approach to engagement south of the Sahara even as 1,600 French troops are deployed on an emergency intervention in the Central African Republic.
The French public and political world are mostly supportive of the mission in the CAR, which seeks to halt a spiral of conflict between Christians and Muslims. Yet Hollande still has to overcome the skepticism of critics who see this latest military intervention as redolent of the post-colonial era, when Paris would send in its forces to make or unmake African regimes.
Among his African counterparts, the French president has found a general welcome for his decision to send troops to the CAR, as he did for his decision to send French forces to Mali in January to halt an advance by the jihadists that had taken over the north of the country. But Hollande is well-aware of the limits on what such emergency deployments can achieve. He recognizes that what will really count in the long term is Africa’s ability to build its own security structures and capacity to send in forces to stabilize troubled countries or maintain peace.