Mar. 25, 2014 by Darius
It was a year ago today that the former president of the Central African Republic fled the capital, abandoning the country to the Seleka rebel movement. In the time since, the Central African Republic has seen some horrific sectarian violence, but the situation today is somewhat more stable than it has been for months. The improvement is largely due to French intervention. In coming decades, France’s role in Africa will become more important, if for no other reason than demographics.
Francophone (or French-speaking) Africa encompasses much of the western and central portions of the continent. Right now, 363 million people live in Francophone Africa. By 2050, though, an estimated 800 million people will be living in these same countries. French is the fastest-growing language in Africa.
France has always enjoyed a close relationship with its former colonies – some might say too close. But as the French showed in Mali in 2012-2013 and in the Central African Republic more recently, France is often the best candidate to intervene in la francophonie, both because of France’s linguistic, cultural, and economic ties to its former colonies and because France has three large military bases and several thousand French soldiers in Africa. They’re nearby, they understand the local populace, they speak the language, and they have specialized military equipment at the ready.
The days of Françafrique, a term used in France to describe the cozy relationship between French companies and African dictators, may be over. But France will still be the go-to world power in places like Mali, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere in Africa just because of those 500 million new French-speaking people.