French Africa investment needs strong policy on Islamism fight

French president Macron shakes hands with Kagame.

France’s influence over the economic development of Africa requires a strong anti-Islamist extremism economic policy at the same time. 

News Analysis, Commentary 

Rachel Brooks

May 19, 2021 

The French nation has drawn criticism for its “crackdown” combating Islamism domestically. Yet, Cambridge University has called France “noncommittal” in its stance toward Islamist extremism in regions abroad where its influence is the most profound. As France becomes a leading influence in the stance against radicalism, as well as an ever-present face in Africa’s economic rebirth, it faces the challenge of addressing the issue of Islamist insurgents and their impact on the poor economic development of Africa. France faces the challenge of rethinking its failed policies of the past and moving forward in the volatile diplomatic environment of the present.  

France has dared to take the step as a major mediator in Africa’s future, both in terms of security and economics. Ground reality shows that these factors overlap due to the unique influence of Islamist insurgencies over African economics. This is a fact that France must consider coherently to be fully effective. 

CNBC reported on May 19 that the French finance minister Bruno Le Maire has warned of the risks to peace and security if African economies are “left lagging.” This follows a successful Africa Finance summit mediated by France. France has mitigated a “new deal by Africa and for Africa” stated French President Emmanuel Macron citing the results of the Summit on the Financing of African Economies.

The summit was headed by 21 African countries. France now raises its voice to warn world powers of the risks of not involving itself in Africa’s economic recovery from the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The French nation also pushes for greater African involvement at G-7 and G-20 world economic summits. 

As France addresses the economics of post-COVID-19 Africa, the Nigerian President Buhari has taken his time in attendance at the summit to address the advantages Boko Haram has taken of the COVID-19 pandemic. He reportedly petitions France for support in “crushing” Boko Haram, stated Pulse Nigeria. 

This is an example of the overlap in post-COVID-19 recovery and addressing Islamist insurgencies. Economic and sustainable projects in Africa cannot go forward without policy addressing the ground reality of Islamist insurgencies.

French investment must be consistent with ground realities

The Africa Report has noted the increased French investment in Africa across all geographic segmentations. While appearing attractive, the execution of these investments and their impact on the ground reality of Africa as a Continental whole was described negatively. Moving forward, France will need to lend an ear to the African complaint on French policy versus ground execution to be fully effective in its future-forward investment.  

As France increases this future focused Africa policy, it likewise needs to focus its awareness of the economic component of powerful Islamist insurgencies. To this end, Macron, who has led the French public in the need to crack down on extremism, could be influential. Yet, The Africa Report has stated Macron has a “dangerous” view toward the categorizing of African priorities, as well as toward African demography issues.

The journal described these as “blind spots” of the French mediation in Africa. While the journal was discussing the business of patent release for COVID-19 measures, and the French view that Africa’s poor economic policy is a reflection of overpopulation, this incoherent understanding of the African priority needs has implications on the greater economic reality of Africa as both under western influence, and under the influences of Islamist militants. These militias have their own economics that have a corresponding impact on Africa’s overall productivity and well-being.

The greatest drug bust in the history of west Africa exposes economic fragility 

An example of this tendency is the immense illicit trade within Africa. Islamist insurgencies take advantage of this black market. Africa News, on May 17, reported a massive drug bust of cannabis, cocaine, and pangolins that were worth 100 million Euros total. These drugs were seized between Africa and the Middle East in an international police operation spanning March and April. This was announced by Interpol on Monday. Interpol worked with customs and police officials in 41 countries and arrested 287 people. In Niger warehouses alone, 17 tons of cannabis resin worth 31million Euros were seized. The drugs were en route for Libya. The bust was described as “the largest drug bust in the history of West Africa.” 

This is another example of where black market trade and Islamism overlap.

In a recent Republic Underground panel, Lebanese rights activist Charbel Hage broke down the connection of illegal drug trade to the “Hezbollah model” of terrorism. He explained that massive drug enterprise is used in the proxy schemes of the terror network of Iran to fund Islamist insurgency. Speaking also on the panel, former Israel Defense Force intelligence office Eric Schorr explained that this proxy network stretches into Latin America, all across the Middle East and Africa. Hage likewise explained that the Islamist militia economies exist in tandem with the centralized economy, functioning off of money laundering and loan schemes. 

In The Untold Story of Boko Haram Insurgency: The Lake Chad Oil and Gas Connection by Cambridge University Press, academics addressed the French “noncommittal” attitude toward Boko Haram, the major insurgency power in Nigeria. The article, which was published in 2019, made a case for the “nexus between water resources and terrorism.”

The threat of water in Islamist insurgencies complicates sustainability

Water resources pose an attractive economic position for Islamist insurgents across Africa. A major water conflict of modern Africa is the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam. Tensions increase over the dam, as Egypt’s president Al-Sisi continues to demand a legally binding contract document that includes the needs of the Egyptian way of life in the international agreement regarding Ethiopia’s use of the dam. The Egyptian president made these comments at a recent diplomatic meeting in Paris.  

In terms of environmental policy, The Africa Report called France’s policy toward “greener trade” as being “one-sided” and in the case of the GERD dam, sustainable policy requires bilateral communication. France cannot adequately cooperate in terms of the GERD dam if it repeats the cycle it has in the past of taking policy positions that force African’s to make “unfavorable choices.” 

The meeting in Paris highlighted the fact that France aims to boost bilateral cooperation with Egypt. As France moves toward stronger cooperation with Egypt, the growing compounded issue of the Tigray rebellion in Ethiopia increases the issues of displaced persons and population ratio uneven dispensation. 

Likewise, the radicalization of the Tigray-Ethiopia conflict and other regional conflicts creates a unique risk that citing the Cambridge Press analysis, opens the door for insurgencies to use the water crisis anticipated by the GERD dam production to their advantage in the Nile region. Proofs of a radical element in the Tigray-Ethiopia  include a report by the Globe and Mail that in the ongoing Tigray conflict ancient Christian and Muslim holy sites continue to be destroyed.

Watch Jerusalem analyzed that the Tigray-Ethiopia conflict has ethnic components similar to historic Yugoslavia, which compounds the issues of human displacement as well as water resource deprivation in areas impacted by the GERD dam use or negotiations politics.  This is ample ground to be exploited by extremist militias which adds further security risk elements to a region under severe geopolitical tensions. 

French policy, which The Africa Report described as having a “Malthusian fear of a population increase” is challenged here, as population estimations in African policy are often compounded by forced immigration crises. The ground reality of Africa will demand a coherent policy from a would-be influential France on population-driven economic policy. All aspects of life in Africa now simmer down to which influence will have greater pressure for African society and which of them the African people as a Continental whole will stand up under. This requires the ability to hear the African people’s needs as they factually are as well as to speak up on their collective Continental behalf.