ISS Today: Le Pen and France’s anti-terrorism strategy in Africa


    First published on
    ISS Today

    French politicians have a long history of
    displaying their links with Francophone African leaders to
    boost their “presidential” standing back home; and the current
    race to the polls has been no different.

    Four of the front-runners in the elections
    that take place on April 23 and May 7 have visited Africa in
    the past few months.

    The centre-right François
    Fillon went to Mali and Niger at the end of last year, while
    earlier in 2017, independent candidate Emmanuel Macron and the
    Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon visited Algeria. Last week, the
    leader of the far-right National Front (FN) party Marine Le Pen
    jumped on the bandwagon when she visited Chad – her

    with an African

    In the past few years, this central African
    country has distinguished itself as a strong ally of France’s
    military operations in the Sahel and in the Central African
    Republic. Chad’s President Idriss Déby is part of the G5-Sahel
    grouping (Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania) that
    aims to create its own military force against terrorism in the
    Sahel. It is also the base of the African Union (AU)-supported
    Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko

    Le Pen’s trip was in part to meet with French
    troops fighting terrorism in the Sahel as part of France’s
    Operation Barkhane. The photo opportunity with Déby made news
    across the region and in French pan-African

    Though outspoken about her anti-European
    Union (EU) and anti-immigration stance, Le Pen has been trying
    to put a more respectable face on the FN. She has also tried to
    boost her campaign by meeting foreign leaders such as Déby and
    Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Le Pen came third during the first round of
    presidential elections in 2012 and expects to qualify for the
    run-off in April.

    Both terrorism and migration feature
    prominently in the election campaigns of all the candidates.
    While Le Pen might differ from current French policy when it
    comes to the details, there seems to be agreement regarding
    fighting terrorism in Africa more broadly.

    Like many other French politicians, Le Pen’s
    campaign highlights how increased French defence spending and
    development assistance would lead to a decrease in terror
    attacks in the Sahel, and fewer migrants. To this she adds
    sorting out the chaos in Libya – where various terror groups
    active in the Sahel are based.


    her statement made in

    on March 22, Le Pen vowed
    to raise French development aid to Africa to 0.7% of the GDP;
    higher than it has been under outgoing President François
    Hollande (0.37% in 2016). This would cover both development and

    According to her statement
    made to the Chadian National Assembly, the focus would be on
    security forces, agriculture, infrastructure, education and
    health. All these areas are already part of the priorities
    outlined by the

    legal framework document on development
    adopted by the outgoing
    socialist government.

    Another element of continuity is that Le Pen
    also pledged to give this aid to governments, rather than civil
    society. Her focus, however, is on Francophone Africa – rather
    than the current larger focus of French development aid to
    other parts of the continent.

    The major difference between Le Pen and
    current French policies is her preference for bilateral aid
    rather than multilateral instruments, such as the United
    Nations and the EU, through which France channels its support
    to the AU’s peace and security

    This approach, which resonates among FN
    followers and some Euro-sceptics, might be different in its
    implementation, but doesn’t differ fundamentally from the
    French mainstream consensus on Africa.

    France’s fight against terrorism in the Sahel
    has been costly for the country and has only been partially
    successful in re-establishing long-term

    France’s Operation Serval, launched in 2013,
    stopped the invasion of armed groups that had occupied the
    north of Mali. It has since been replaced with Operation
    Barkhane, comprising 4,000 personnel, with the main base in
    Chad. However, this is an increasingly treacherous environment,
    and the effectiveness of both Barkhane and the regional
    security forces remains questionable.

    Rooting out terrorism is
    far more complex than simply deploying military offensive
    operations. Institute for Security Studies

    experts have pointed

    that the international
    community’s solutions to root out terrorism in Africa – which
    are generally focused on military action – haven’t worked.
    Focusing on global strategies while ignoring local conditions
    is ineffectual. The situation in Mali and the spillover of
    jihadist threats to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire
    show that other strategies are



    has also shown that the
    youth join jihadist organisations for various reasons,
    including financial incentives, and not only because they are
    attracted to religious

    The French presidential election presents an
    opportunity to review the policies pursued so far. France must
    shift towards strategies with clear benchmarks for success,
    rather than committing to a seemingly endless military presence
    with no exit strategy. These are disruptive to local livelihood
    processes and thus often resented by local

    Over-militarised responses
    often address the

    of terrorism, rather than the root
    causes. In the next phase of its involvement in Africa’s fight
    against terrorism, France should avoid engaging in military
    responses that feed into this

    This means tackling the problem in a
    comprehensive approach, beginning with governance at the local
    and national levels. It doesn’t bode well, then, that Le Pen
    barely mentioned this critical issue during her first African
    trip. DM

    Yann Bedzigui, is a researcher for ISS
    Addis Ababa and Liesl Louw-Vaudran is an ISS