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France - Africa's policeman?

The deaths of French soldiers during CAR intervention makes President Francois Holland face tough questions.
Last modified: 17 Dec 2013 09:32

The two French soldiers received a funeral with full military honours on Monday. Their flag draped coffins were brought before President Francois Hollande in a ceremony, which marked their sacrifice, and which gave the president a platform to reassure the French public.

Nicolas Vokaer and Antoine Le Quinio are France's first two casualties in its intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The latest polls suggest the French public is not convinced their troops should have been sent in the first place. A week after they were killed in Bangui one recent poll showed support for the mission to have fallen from 51 percent to 44 percent in less than a week.

At Monday's ceremony President Hollande responded to public concern, attempting to answer the question: "why always us?" in reference to France's long history of engagement in Africa. Since France cut loose its African colonies, including CAR, in 1960 it has intervened in Sub Saharan Africa 48 times, eight times in CAR alone.

President Hollande said without France's speedy military engagement the level of killing and displacement in CAR would have been far worse. He said the country's troops would soon be handing over to UN mandated African forces.

A distant place

But the public remains deeply skeptical. For most French people the CAR is a distant place few know anything of. And of those who do, most will tell you first of the country's reputation for corrupt dictators and endemic political crisis.

Media coverage of brutal killings motivated by religious differences have shocked the French. Unlike the relatively straightforward objectives in this year's operation in Mali, the context in CAR seems far more complex and difficult to solve.

The French are also asking at a time of ongoing economic recession, why is France so keen to adopt the mantle of Africa's policeman.

For President Hollande his decision to deploy so quickly to this latest crisis carries great risks. Some say he is banking on repeating the perceived success of his decision to intervene in Mali. But others warn that in CAR there is higher chance of failure and with every French military casualty, a greater chance of real political damage.