Africa must take charge of its own security, President Francois Hollande told African leaders in Paris on Friday, as French troops were sent to the Central African Republic to quell sectarian killings.
Speaking at a two-day Africa-France peace and security summit at the Elysee Palace, Hollande promised that France would be prepared to help establish a special African rapid-reaction force and would train up to 20,000 soldiers each year.
His pledge came as French forces killed several fighters near the airport of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic on the first day of their UN-backed mission to restore order to the nation.
The clashes took place as France started deploying an additional 600 troops, doubling the force it already has in and around the capital.
Britain dispatched a C17 transport plane to support the French operation, with two more flights planned later this month. Germany also offered to send transport planes.
As the French soldiers entered Bangui, Hollande told African leaders that the continent must ”ensure its own security.”
”A new era is opening,” he said. ”Africa must take its destiny fully in hand, and to do so must take care of its security itself.”
France’s military involvement in two former colonies this year – the Central African Republic and Mali – has raised questions over whether it is returning to the interventionist days of Francafrique, as France’s opaque dealings in its former African colonies became known.
Given France’s involvement in the Central African Republic, Hollande, said, his call might sound ”surprising,” but he insisted: ”Times have changed. Relations can no longer be what they were in the past.”
Calling for a new military partnership between Africa and France in ”consulting, training, equipment and intelligence,” Hollande said: ”France is ready to lend its full support to this force,” while insisting that only a ”holistic” approach to security and economic development would succeed.
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s foreign minister, said that Hollande’s call would have been welcomed by the late Nelson Mandela.
”Africa is not free until it is totally free from insecurity, from wars, from underdevelopment, from poverty and inequality. This is the befitting tribute to Madiba, to … continue on this journey of discussing how we should continue working together to find African solutions to African problems.”