A new direction for France’s international cooperation policy?

The uncertain international order that resulted from the end of the Cold War is collapsing on European soil today, giving birth to a new world disorder that we must learn to organize.

Everywhere, the relations between the states are hardening and the old concepts – power, sovereignty, influence – are finding a new echo in the foreign policy of the states. Africa finds itself at the center of this new international dynamic.

Indeed, far from being passive spectators of these developments, African states are using the return of competition between powers as a bargaining chip to increase their room for maneuver in a context where interdependence, whether suffered or chosen, has never existed. so high. Thus, a crisis in agricultural production in Europe is a harbinger of a food crisis in Africa, and the beginning of a possible security and international migration crisis.

In this volatile and complex international environment, cooperation is no longer just an ethical issue: it is above all a practical necessity. Therefore, a serious inventory of French cooperation policy is important, especially on the African continent when Emmanuel Macron recently formalized the end of Operation Barkhane. If certain successes are to be noted, the results of recent years seem nuanced.

A mixed record for French cooperation policy

In Afghanistan, massive support from international donors, especially France, was not enough to prevent the collapse of Afghan state institutions.

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In the Sahel, the situation remains very precarious, despite significant human and financial efforts by France and its partners to help stabilize and restore development in the region. Paradoxically, although French official development assistance has been steadily increasing in the Sahelian region for several years, France’s image – its ability to create attraction, to arouse the support of its partners – seems weaker than ever.

Despite the increased resources devoted to cooperation, a diffuse anti-French sentiment gradually manifested itself in the growing fringes of West African societies. At the same time, far from the often-expressed clichés, French commercial positions on the African continent have been significantly eroded since the early 2000s, especially in French-speaking countries.

Read more: After Mali, Burkina: Storm warning for France in the Sahel

Taking advantage of this strategic retreat and helping to stimulate it, new international players are taking sides with African states and proposing an alternative in terms of cooperation and development. China, Russia, and even Turkey are basing their proposals for cooperation on a narrative we know little about and still learn little about.

Read more: Towards Chinese imperialism in Africa?

French cooperation, which has been the spearhead of our foreign policy for a long time, is now retreating. How can it be explained? The quality of expertise mobilized by France is not in question. On the other hand, we need to question the doctrinal foundation on which our cooperative model is built. Is it adapted to the new international configuration that is forming before our eyes?

An outdated doctrinal base in the face of the evolution of the international scene

To understand the guiding principles that still guide our international cooperation policy today, we need to go back to Francois Mitterrand’s La Baule speech in 1990.

In a context marked by the collapse of the USSR and the end of the East-West rivalry, France at that time intended to develop its relations with the states of the African continent. Development aid provided by Paris is now tied to the implementation of reforms aimed at democratizing African societies. Diplomatic relations are more technical and less political in nature. Considered an archaic survival, the French Ministry of Cooperation closed its doors in 1999 after forty years of operation. As a sign of the era, the Hôtel de Montesquiou, which houses the Ministry of Cooperation in Paris, has since been bought by China, which established its embassy there in 2017.

More than thirty years have passed since his performance at La Baule. The doctrinal milestones established at that time are proving useless today. The new international strategic context requires us to create a new compass for our cooperation policy. What could be the lines of power, the main points?

Towards a partnership of sovereignty and responsibility

In a world of interdependence, cooperation means creating mutually beneficial solutions to issues of common interest. The logic of aid, perceived by our partners as a sign of an asymmetric dependency relationship, must be abandoned. It should be replaced by a more symmetrical and horizontal partnership logic.

Cooperation is not just a technical tool: it is, above all, a lever at the service of the foreign policy of states. When faced with the return of the power-state, sovereignty and responsibility must be established.

Sovereignty, because states are free to choose the development model that suits them according to their socio-historical trajectory. Thus, our cooperation proposal can focus more on sovereign issues and leave social issues to the respective companies.

Responsibility is a consequence of sovereignty, because development, like security, is primarily the responsibility of states themselves. Cooperation is not a substitute. It is first and foremost the responsibility of the respective states to respond sustainably to vulnerabilities in societies. The determination and formulation of the solutions to be provided can only be endogenous. In order for the support provided by the cooperation participants to be effective, the needs must be clearly expressed.

Read more: The necessary transformation of international humanitarian aid

If we do not develop a state and society through cooperation, on the contrary, we can develop together. The idea of ​​co-development, which reflects this reality, should be preferred over the concept of development aid. The growing needs in terms of development in the countries with which we cooperate, especially in French-speaking Africa, are many shared opportunities that make it possible to develop our own skills and know-how within the framework of the partnership. , public as well as private. French companies will benefit from being better connected with this co-development policy, especially medium-sized companies that are struggling to cross the internationalization threshold.

In terms of security, the increasing interdependence of societies in the face of risks and threats affecting them creates increasing needs for cooperation between states. Security issues related to human trafficking, terrorism, and human trafficking have gained an increasing international dimension.

In the context of this interaction, supporting states in their efforts to strengthen their internal security is also a means of contributing to our own security with a feedback effect, both at the French and European level.

The operationalization of this new doctrinal framework will require a rediscovery of the deeply interministerial dimension that has historically characterized our system of international cooperation. Thus, if Europe and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have a decisive role in this matter, a greater synergy between the activities of all relevant ministries should be sought.

It is necessary to take advantage of modern levers, which are still very little mobilized. In this regard, the contribution of diasporas to renewing our approach to international cooperation cannot be underestimated.

Read more: The Diaspora: Africa’s Underestimated Development Potential

A detailed understanding of local dynamics, which is crucial to ensure the success of any collaborative action, enhancing the experience of diasporas as well as local expertise, is still largely neglected, and may allow us to better adapt our proposal to intervention contexts. Because cooperation is first and foremost a human-scale field policy that requires flexibility and innovation at the local level. It’s about listening and building together.

For example, the livestock sector in Niger

How can international cooperation based on this new doctrinal basis look like in practice? The livestock sector in Niger is a clear example for us.

Although Niger has one of the largest dairy herds in West Africa, the country imports massive amounts of milk that is consumed locally. Dairy products produced and marketed by Nigerian companies today are mostly made from imported milk powder, sometimes re-greased with vegetable oil to the detriment of nutritional quality.

This state of dependence is a major challenge for Niger’s autonomy and food security in a particularly precarious national and regional context in this area. The low level of economic integration of Nigerian herdsmen is also one of the reasons for the increase in conflict between herdsmen and farmers, which has led to the development of insurgent armed movements in the region over the past few years.

By developing a partnership with Niger State to support national dairy companies with the aim of strengthening its livestock sector and moving up value chains, France and its partners can contribute to strengthening Niger’s food and economic sovereignty, while at the same time addressing the causes of local conflict. This “broad-spectrum partnership” including various relevant ministries and operators, as well as French, European and Nigerian economic players with specific expertise, should be ensured through inter-ministerial strategic communication based on cross-reinforcement of food sovereignty. states. This narrative will need to be broken down operationally by the various layers of actors involved to maximize its impact.

As the British historian Arnold Toynbee said a century ago: “History is on the move again.” Internationally, when the collective challenges to be faced are greater than ever, efforts must be made to reinvent our politics of cooperation.

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