Weak states come to depend on strong states and, in the process, become client states

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023

French President Emmanuel Macron has been attempting a large-scale “reset” or “refoundation” of relations with Africa and has explained that “there is no longer a French policy for Africa”:

In August 2020, the military of Mali overthrew the government in a coup d’etat. Since then, in quick succession, four of Mali’s regional neighbors have experienced coup attempts, including successful ones in Guinea and Burkina Faso. The Central African Republic, meanwhile, has become a client state of Russia.2 This unprecedented wave of coups is a consequence of decisions made in Paris to pull back long-standing French troop deployments in French-speaking Africa.

The French military has been actively deployed to West Africa since January 2013, when an offensive was launched to defeat armed separatists in northern Mali who threatened to overthrow the government. Initially successful, the deployment was formalized as Operation Barkhane in 2014 and expanded to neighboring countries, including Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad. At its peak, Operation Barkhane involved 5500 French soldiers. A United Nations follow-on peacekeeping mission involved about 15,000 UN peacekeepers, including over one thousand German soldiers.

In early 2020, the French government loosened its commitment to military involvement in the region. French President Emmanuel Macron, newly elected in 2017, was unwilling to send more French troops to Africa to bring an end to the ongoing insurgencies, which had multiplied rather than subsided. Macron believed that France’s relationship to Africa needed a “reset” or “refoundation” from its colonial past and, as part of that, France should allow African countries to solve their own problems. French military intervention, therefore, would be scaled back.


Although formal French colonialism ended in the decades after World War II, France nevertheless maintained a notable sphere of influence in its former African colonies, especially in West Africa. This informal empire was maintained through elite social and business ties with France, as well as through the large-scale involvement of the French military, which was deliberately designed to be capable of rapid intervention in Africa.


Weak states that cannot suppress insurgencies or alleviate privation on their own necessarily come to depend on strong states and, in the process, become client states. If France will not provide this support, perhaps the U.S. or Russia will.


  1. Jim says:

    If France doesn’t maintain its colonial presence in Black Africa, who will be left to carry on the lingua franca?

  2. Michael van der Riet says:

    Jim, every DRC person I’ve met speaks French.

    France rightly decided that Keita’s ever-increasing demands for bribes — sorry, I mean foreign aid — were getting out of hand, and with the departure of the golden goose in came the generals. France lost a good training ground for the French Foreign Legion.

  3. Bomag says:

    ”…who will be left to carry on the lingua franca?”

    Are the ones replacing Burgundians and Normans speaking French, or are they replacing even that?

  4. Isegoria says:

    When I was taking French in high school, I was surprised that the French term for creole languages was (still) le petit nègre — and I was surprised that they were willing to teach this fact to American kids.

  5. Jim says:

    Nice, France.

  6. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    The Third Republic, as descendants of the spiritual lineage going back to the false popes of Avignon, has always liked to imagine itself as the leaders of global leftism; and hence their restiveness under the anglo-american occupation of the same, even if ‘fellow travelers’ in terms of cardinality; and hence, their maintenance of a particular degree of independence compared to every other country in western Europe.

    Or perhaps to put it in other words, countries without nukes are not real countries.

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