French African policy: towards change

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It has been a constant feature of French policy towards black Africa that political and strategic factors have been more significant than economic considerations in determining this policy. It is in this sense that reference to continuity has become almost a cliche of surveys of French African policy. At the same time the idea that 'the exercise of power in Africa was vital if French status in Europe was to be maintained'1 has also been a constant feature of French policy towards Africa. In the modern period this policy is sometimes traced back to De Gaulle and the beginning of the Fifth Republic but it actually dates back even further, to the early 1950s when France began to lay the framework for its post-war African policy. A key actor in the formulation of this policy was the Minister for Overseas France at the time, Francois Mitterrand. Forty years later, in the early 1990s, Mitterrand is once again a key actor in French relations with Africa. Today however he is no longer a force for, but rather an obstacle to, much-needed change. It will be the intention of this article to survey French African policy at the present time, paying particular attention to those features of the situation which, despite the rapidly changing international situation that has rendered many of the premisses on which French African policy is traditionally based obsolete, nonetheless continue to constitute major obstacles to change. In this survey the significance of both external and internal political constraints, whether of an institutional nature or relating to the role of particular individuals, will be considered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-51
Number of pages15
JournalAfrican Affairs
Issue number362
Publication statusPublished - 1992


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