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French Military Cooperation : a Factor for Stability in Africa

Military and defence co-operation with all foreign states is the responsibility of a new department that from 1999 brought together the Quai d’Orsay military aid sub-department and the military mission of the former Department of State for Co-operation. Until 1998, the Department of State for Co-operation was responsible for development aid to the so called countries "in the field", meaning those countries that were formerly under French influence and those in a similar position (i.e. former French colonies in Africa, from Mauritania to the Côte d’Ivoire, from Togo to Congo). The Quai d’Orsay was responsible for cultural scientific and technical relations with the rest of the world. However, these types of action have in fact the same goals: partners’ economic and social progress and extending the influence of France. Elsewhere, areas of influence have become less marked. It was globalisation that finally imposed the reform. Until 1998, the Department of State for Co-operation was responsible for development aid to the so called countries "in the field", meaning those countries that were formerly under French influence and those in a similar position (i.e. former French colonies in Africa, from Mauritania to the Côte d’Ivoire, from Togo to Congo). The Quai d’Orsay was responsible for cultural scientific and technical relations with the rest of the world. However, these types of action have in fact the same goals: partners’ economic and social progress and extending the influence of France. Elsewhere, areas of influence have become less marked. It was globalisation that finally imposed the reform. Article for the journal “Défense” by General Emmanuel Beth, Head of the Military and Defence Cooperation Directorate (DCMD). Paris, October 10, 2997.

Logo de la DCMD.

French military cooperation with Africa saw major changes at the end of the 1990s, in line with the focuses of France’s new African policy.  The creation of the DCMD (Direction de la coopération militaire et de défense / Military and Defence Cooperation Directorate) within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the task of driving the structural component of military cooperation in all global regions in close coordination with the other Ministry directorates, is part and parcel of these changes. The aim, particularly in the case of Africa, was to transform a policy of substitution into one based on partnership and empowerment, leaving operational cooperation (training and equipment) to be implemented by the Armed Forces General Staff at the Ministry of Defence. These two modes of cooperation are mutually complementary and conducted in close coordination.

N°129 de la revue Défense.Le Général Emmanuel Beth, Directeur de la Coopération Militaire et de Défense. Photo © DCMD.

What characterises French military cooperation in Africa today is thus, firstly, a determination to equip African States with the instruments they need to build and control their defence resources within the limits set by the rule of law. But it is characterised at the same time by the desire to help the continent put in place structures at regional and sub-regional levels for planning, command and intervention enabling it to manage and resolve crises within the framework of the peace and security architecture desired and designed by the African Union (AU).

  • French military cooperation, a factor for the stability of African States.

Although it is now generally accepted that in Africa “security is a public good that is poorly assured due to the weakness, or indeed the non-existence, of the police, the army and the courts as forces guaranteeing civil and political rights”[1], detailed situations in individual States vary widely. Depending on the requests made to it and the resources at its disposal, the DCMD acts to strengthen defence and security capacities in States seeking such help. It does so through training, advice and technical support guided by a logic based on empowerment and ownership by African countries of their own defence systems.

For example, where training is concerned, while the number of Africans trained in France remains substantial (750 in 2006), the DCMD has also been endeavouring for several years to give the African countries with which it cooperates the means to provide their own training on the continent, working through the ENVRs, or regionally-oriented schools.


Déplacement au Bénin le 16.02.07 au Centre de Perfectionnement de la Police Judiciaire de Porto Novo. Photo © DCMD.


Déplacement au Bénin le 16.02.07 au Centre de Perfectionnement de la Police Judiciaire (CPPJ) de Porto Novo (un des nos ENVR)

The number of ENVRs stands currently at 14 and is steadily increasing, the aim being on the one hand to cover all military specialisms, and on the other to provide training for the different levels of responsibility. With respect to specialist training, supplementing that provided in schools already in existence in the fields of peacekeeping, mine clearance, infantry, aeronautics, gendarmerie, healthcare and maintenance, a school is due to open this year in Guinea for signal transmissions training, and work will begin in Congo on the construction of an applied military engineering school[2] which should be welcoming its first trainees in 2009.

With regard to officer training programmes, the system, which already includes a school for initial officer training and two staff training schools, will be supplemented in 2007 with the opening in Cameroon of the CSID (Cours supérieur interarmées de défense / Advanced inter-service defence course). In addition to their operational and technical dimension, ENVRs are innovative focuses for dialogue and contact between officers from all over the African continent.

In the context of the provision of support for internal security, special emphasis is placed on training in peacekeeping provided both in schools of gendarmerie based on the continent[3] and as part of short-duration missions aimed at training rapid intervention groups on a one-off basis. However, the stress placed in these training courses on non-lethal peacekeeping techniques and controlling violence with appropriate levels of force turns out with experience to be a key component in the maintenance of stability in States. This was confirmed in particular, on a number of occasions, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Starting in 2004, the DCMD participated there in training and equipping four battalions of rapid intervention police[4], units whose remit is to maintain law and order and combat criminal activity. This training was provided by French gendarmes assigned on short-term missions.  The DCMD also financed the equipping of the first battalion and later funds from the Ministry of Finance, channelled through the AFD, the French Development Agency, allowed the materiel needed for the three other battalions to be acquired. These units’ equipment and techniques for engagement made it possible during the disturbances of June 2004 and especially over the period 20-22 August 2006, when the results of the first round of presidential elections were announced, to restore public order with the minimum of casualties. It is the view of many African and non-African political leaders that the absence of these units or inappropriate intervention by them could have led to renewed chaos.

In the sphere of law enforcement, along with the restructuring and modernisation of defence systems, the DCMD supports over 150 missions every year, in the course of which 200 military experts provide their input for the restructuring of African armies and gendarmeries[5].  In this field there will also be a new ENVR in the future – EIFORCES (École Internationale des Forces de Sécurité / International Security Forces School) in Cameroon; this will turn out contingents of police and gendarmes for peacekeeping operations.

And lastly, the DCMD works in the field of crisis exit strategy by training personnel in humanitarian mine clearance and reintegrating military personnel into civilian life. In Benin, CPADD (Centre de perfectionnement aux actions post-conflictuelles de déminage et de dépollution  / Centre for further training in post-conflict mine clearance and decontamination activities) set up in 2003, trains around 100 military personnel from the continent every year who will themselves go on in their own countries to train military operatives in mine clearance techniques. The Muzinda military trades school was formally opened last September in Burundi. Its purpose is to dispense technical training (electricity, plumbing, bricklaying, mechanics, for example) to non-commissioned officers and lower ranks of Burundi’s new national defence forces (FDN). This type of technical training establishment is intended to contribute not only to rebuilding FDN capacities, but also in the longer run to the success of the current DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration) process, which is crucial for the future stability of the country.

All the actions described above are underpinned by bilateral logic. The DCMD has however gradually become more involved in an approach conducted within a multilateral framework and directed at ensuring the stability of the African continent at the regional, sub-regional and local levels (involving several States).

  • French military cooperation, a factor for the stability of the African continent

At the continental level, the planned building of an African force capable of intervening to resolve crises is a longstanding project, and has in fact existed since African states began to win their independence. But it was the African Union, shortly after its creation[6] that launched, in 2003, the process whereby such a force has gradually been ramped up in capacity. The African Standby Force (ASF) has as its core mission intervention on the African continent in peacekeeping operations. It relies on task-sharing between the AU (which has a strategic planning staff) and five major African sub-regions, each of which must provide it with a brigade. The ASF project makes a dual contribution to the continent’s stability. It contributes to it by giving the African Union a capacity for action to manage crises. It is also a powerful vehicle for integration and dialogue at regional and sub-regional level. On a continent that is not integrated by language, economics, politics or religion, the opportunity to unite the whole continent around a coherent project which all States are called to support and assist insofar as they are able to do so, is, in France’s view, one that should be grasped. For this reason the DCMD is supportive of the process, in collaboration with the other international donors. To that end, it has assigned a general officer to the planning component of the FAA at AU headquarters.

The sub-regional dimension of stability is also one that cannot be neglected. ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), has for example been able to accomplish a great deal in terms of peacekeeping operations in this area (in Liberia, the Economic Community of West African States Cease-fire Monitoring Group [ECOMOG], the ECOWAS Mission in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire). The DCMD supports the implementation of regional contributions to the ASF. And for that purpose one high-ranking French officer has been assigned to ECOWAS and another to ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States). But more especially, the DCMD has supported the creation in Mali, in Bamako, of a Peacekeeping School whose purpose is to provide training within the framework of the RECAMP cycles[7], as well as outside those cycles, for officers from the various regional military staffs and African countries. This regionally-oriented school, which was formally opened in March 07 at the Koulikouro site, has been set up in partnership with numerous Western nations, which have provided their financial and human resources input for its construction and operation[8].

Nor is the local level left out wherever it is possible to implement coherent crisis alert and prevention projects at that level at the request of African States. For example, the DCMD is conducting bilateral projects[9] in the Sahel-Sahara region for the reinforcement of territory and border control capabilities in Niger, Mali, Chad and in the near future, Mauritania[10]. The aim of these projects is to enable the States concerned to step up their action to control migratory flows and trafficking which start out in Sub-Saharan Africa and head for Europe via North Africa.

And lastly, with a view to encouraging contacts and dialogue across the continent, for several years now the DCMD has been organising and financing the international sessions devoted to Africa by the IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de défense nationale / Institute of higher national defence studies). The IHEDN forum on the African continent (FICA) is today a traditional gathering familiar to our African partners and now attracts attendance by 90 military and civilian personnel from every country on the continent. These high-level meetings are unique in that they break down compartmentalisation in the approach to North Africa / Sub-Saharan Africa, they are open to French-, English- and Portuguese-speaking countries, and they integrate the regional and sub-regional dimensions of the continent, bringing in representatives of the organisations concerned. Every year, the Forum addresses a different topic related to security on the African continent. 

  • French military cooperation, a factor for stability in Europe. 

French military cooperation in Africa is to a large extent focused on the reinforcement of national, sub-regional and regional capacities, these being the key components for the stabilisation of the continent. Naturally, such a policy can be meaningful and effective only if it isclosely coordinated with the other policies directed in the wider context at enhancing the continent’s stability and security. The latter are policies for development aid, health, combating trafficking and those implemented by the other international actors, not least among them the European Union. At stake here are not only the interests of the African continent and the solidarity which should necessarily be developed if it is to be brought out of poverty, but also those of France and Europe. Because Africa, if it is unstable, under-developed and ill-governed, would also be harmful to our own stability, in particular due to the migratory pressure that would not fail to be placed upon our continent. 

General Emmanuel Beth

[1]     Philippe Hugon, Géopolitique de l’Afrique, Armand Colin, 2006

[2]    This school will specialise in planning and engineering work.

[3]     CPPJ (Centre de perfectionnement à la police judiciaire / Centre for further training for the judicial police) in Porto Novo, Benin, and the Centre for further training in public order maintenance techniques in Awaé in Cameroon, which is to become an international centre for security forces training in September 2007. 

[4]    The volume of the forces trained by France can be quantified at 2,000 personnel. Other rapid intervention police units have been trained by other countries. In 2007, France plans to train and equip another battalion of this type. 

[5]      Such short-term missions supplement the action of the 300 permanent cooperation staff assigned to Africa and attached to the military and defence cooperation missions.

[6]      The AU became the successor in 2002 to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) set up in 1963.

[7]     Renforcement des Capacités Africaines de Maintien de la Paix / Reinforcement of African peacekeeping capacities. Launched in 1998, the RECAMP concept is a response to the needs expressed by organisations and African States in the area of peacekeeping. Its objective is to help reinforce their military capabilities and enable them, if they so wish, to plan and implement peacekeeping operations on the continent.   

[8]     This centre is currently receiving significant funding from Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the Swiss Confederation and the United Kingdom. Along with France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada and Argentina have assigned permanent instructors.

[9]     Projects for light observation aircraft and the training of specialist units (nomadic guard, investigation and security forces).

[10]    Project for State action at sea.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).