Just a few weeks before the departure of Helene le Gal from her post as African affairs adviser to François Hollande, West Africa Newsletter reviews in this special report the key features of France's policy towards Africa during the French president's five-year term. When he came into office in 2012, Hollande, who wanted to "normalize" France's relations with Africa, managed to inspire some changes. The wheeler-dealing and parallel politics which had long characterized France's links with Africa were kept away from the presidency and the parliament, which had been traditionally little involved in what had been a domain traditionally reserved for the presidency, recovered its normal role. Despite this limited progress, Hollande, who succeeded right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy, remained a prisoner of African realpolitik.
With France's intervention in Mali in January 2013, politics took a back seat to an approach that was military and even militarist and Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian quickly gained the ascendancy over official diplomacy. This and other interventions, like Serval and Sangaris, which were carried out within the context of the wider combat against terrorism, and Hollande's need to obtain the support of his African opposite numbers to carry them out required the French head of state to make real sacrifices. He wasobliged, notably, to find arrangements with African heads of state like Idriss Deby, Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Paul Biya who he had condemned when he was head of the French Socialist Party. As a result, his policy became difficult to follow and understand.
At economic level, on the other land, France's links with Africa seemed to loosen despite the creation of the foundation, AfricaFrance Fostering Mutual Growth, and its effort s to open up to countries like Nigeria which did not belong to the francophone family.
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