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Security Tops Agenda as France's Hollande Heads to Africa

  • Lisa Bryant

French President Francois Hollande attends the Bastille Day parade on in Paris, July 14, 2014.

French President Francois Hollande attends the Bastille Day parade on in Paris, July 14, 2014.

French President Francois Hollande flies to Africa Thursday, on a three-nation visit that will focus on economic issues and rooting out terrorism in the Sahel area.

Security tops the agenda of President Francois Hollande's trip to Africa, where he will visit French troops and hold talks with the leaders of Niger, Chad and Ivory Coast.

France has just announced a new mission to fight jihadists in the Sahel area. The operation is called Barkhane, named after a type of sand dune.

Alain Antil heads the sub-Saharan Africa program for the French Institute for International Relations in Paris.

Antil notes Barkhane makes use of French troops already in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. He says the new operation will give coherence to the French military presence in the Sahel and to the regional fight against terrorism.

Roughly 3,000 French military personnel will be involved, including some 1,200 troops who took part in the offensive against Islamists in northern Mali. On Monday, a French soldier was killed in a suicide attack near the city of Gao, underscoring the security concerns.

Analyst Antil says regional countries like Niger cooperate closely with France in security matters. But he says it is important for other players, including European countries, to be more involved.

In Ivory Coast, Hollande will focus on trade and investment issues in a country whose economy has rebounded after a long civil war. In Chad, Hollande's last stop and where the Sahel operation will be based, human rights activists fear rights issues might take a backseat to security matters.

Antil predicts Hollande will pay lip service to human rights. The Socialist president promised a new relationship with Africa when he was elected, but Antil says that like other French leaders, he has become more pragmatic in office.

For African countries, even Francophone ones, France's star is fading in favor of new players like China and India. But Hollande, who launched missions in Mali and the Central African Republic, has earned respect and even popularity in some parts of the continent, the kind of support that eludes him back home in France.