WASHINGTON — About two-thirds of the 8,400 French troops involved in foreign operations are based in Africa, primarily in Mali and the Central African Republic. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said recently that he wants his country to double its trade to Africa over the next five years. Together, the developments could indicate the former colonial power in Africa is again trying to bolster its influence on the continent.
France has carried out more than 10 major military interventions on the African continent since the early 1990s, in countries including Chad, Ivory Coast and Libya.
This year, France gained international attention for its leading role in intervening in the crisis in Mali and now the Central African Republic.
Peter Pham, the director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, thinks France has a variety of motives for its recent military forays into Africa.
On VOA's Encounter Program, he said one reason is French President Francois Hollande's lagging support at home.
"His poll numbers have cratered and one of the few areas that he enjoys a certain support in the French electorate has been his foreign policy. The intervention in Mali was very popular and he certainly received a lot of applause for the intervention in the CAR," explained Pham.
In addition to political motives, Pham pointed out that France has economic and humanitarian interests in Africa.
Paul Melly, a journalist and Africa analyst at Chatham House, said he does not think France is on an all-out push for expansion in Africa.
"I don’t think it is a crude traditional attempt to restore or enhance French influence. I think it is a more mature or considered view, if you like. Over the long term, it’s in France’s interest just as in the interest of Europe as a whole for Africa to be stable and prosperous," said Melly.
This month, President Hollande hosted about 40 African leaders at a Paris summit. Ahead of the meeting, Hollande announced that he wanted to double France's exports to the continent over the next five years.
His comments came at a time when China dominates trade with Africa, and countries such as Brazil and India are trying to make inroads.
Aline Leboeuf, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations, said that while France is trying to increase its economic influence in Africa, it is not necessarily trying to take on China.
"What France would like to do is increase its presence in the field of business in Africa in general and especially in Anglophone countries," said Leboeuf.
She noted that France is especially interested in boosting its business presence in the larger African countries, such as Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
Lansiné Kaba, a history professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the former president of the African Studies Association at Rutgers University, said that there is a notable distinction between China's more recent involvement in Africa and what France has been doing.
"The relationship cannot, for the time being, and should not, for the time being, compare to that of France. China does not intervene in a military manner throughout Africa. The Chinese have been investing primarily," Kaba pointed out.
Professor Kaba says France is doing what it knows how to do in Africa: develop meaningful relationships with African states.