France and the United States Compete for North Africa




The North African region is changing in a context that is completely different from the Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia. It is facing a new political environment that addresses the strategic economic conflict between the United States and China, and the expansion of the role of military institutions in the current Arab political climate. The “Prosper Africa” initiative introduced by John Bolton confronts China and Russia and abandons the traditional map of Western colonial oil sources. As such, the geostrategic role of Russia and China in the region has been increasing, a role which, until very recently, was associated with the regions that were stolen by colonial powers before independence.

French and American powers have historically remained strong and stable since the Marshall Plan. However, Uncle Sam’s political approach in the Trump era, based on “America First,” could threaten French hegemony over the Francophone African world. France is now supporting the strategy of European military and security independence by calling for the establishment of a European military force comparable to that of NATO. The United States has relied on NATO to build the Western project since the Cold War. Despite the symbolism of the recent reconciliatory treat between France and Germany, the treaty expresses French aspirations, which Emmanuel Macron announced to the European Union. In his call to make this European dream a reality, he said, “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.”

Libya Between Italy and France

Khalifa Haftar’s forces are simultaneously seeking to establish convenient military legitimacy that does not threaten Egypt and which is economically and politically beneficial to the Gulf. Despite the “political price” of visiting the Egyptian regime, which has been cited by Europeans for its violations of human rights, the French and Italians did not find it difficult to visit Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for a piece of the Libyan pie. The visit led to a verbal confrontation between the descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte and Rodolfo Graziani. France is looking for new options in this new and changing African situation. It seems France is more threatened than ever, since Trump announced America’s move to Africa as a promising commercial market, and as a direct exporter of raw materials amid fierce competition with the Chinese and Russians.

The Algerian Situation and Its Impact on the Region

In Algeria’s move, France appears to be one player among many. Ahmed Gaid Salah, chief of staff of the Algerian People’s National Army, visited the United Arab Emirates. The Algerian people seem very dissatisfied with the role of the French, described by Macron in statements that expressed genuine concern over Algeria’s attitude toward the old colonizer, whose image in the national political consciousness remains linked to the brutality of “group graves” and for which Algeria is demanding an official apology from the “State of Freedoms.”

The Council on Foreign Relations has called on U.S. policymakers to review the Algerian situation and its impact on North Africa, as well as the effects of Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation in connection with the crises in Libya, Mali, Sudan and the North African economic project.

In a cautionary note to the same council, strategic experts stress the great risks that could result from instability in Algeria, especially with regard to the war on terror, migration to Europe and the turbulence of global oil markets. These are issues which force Americans to intervene indirectly in Algerian affairs due to the sensitivity of national sovereignty concerns; they intervene by supporting the efforts of European parties and African neighbors and promoting the democratic electoral process.

The French military presence remains strong in Africa, home to 100 million French speakers and where many countries have important economic and military agreements with arms, oil and gas companies. But the new changes to the continent could reduce the role of the French and allow new actors such as the United States and China, as well as Russia, Turkey and even the Gulf countries which are being led to play a pivotal role in the new political changes in North African countries.

Just as the Algerian war of independence was a decisive factor in the transformation of France’s domestic situation after World War II, the future of Algeria seems to contribute significantly to defining the new status of Western countries in North Africa.

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