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France-UK defence deal could bring cooperation on Africa, report

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Tony Chafer, François Gaulme and Gordon Cumming (L to R), 3 November 2010, Ifri

After a ground-breaking military deal between France and Britain earlier this week – a report presented in Paris at the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri) says there should be more cooperation between the two countries in Africa.

Radio Report: Africa Report

The investigation entitled Punching Below Their Weight – Critical Reflections on Anglo-French Cooperation in Africa is the result of three years of research. Africa analysts Gordon Cumming and Tony Chafer suggest that France and Britain should improve security cooperation and work more closely on poverty reduction and governance.

“In some senses it’s disadvantageous for Africans if Britain and France work together because it limits the room for manoeuvre if you can play one country off against another,” says Cardiff University’s Cumming. “There are certainly few benefits for rivalry continuing in the way it did in the past.”

He adds that the French now help Britain on Zimbabwe within the European Union and the British now help the French on Cote d’Ivoire within the United Nations.

“Before that was not the case and these are intractable crises,” he says. “The last thing you want is the British and the French taking opposing views.”

Cooperation in the Democratic Republic of Congo could be more beneficial, according to Tony Chafer from the University of Portsmouth, especially as some groundwork is already in place – the British Department for International Development is a major financial donor to the DRC, and France has a large political, military and economic presence in the country.

“It’s a country that’s right in the middle of Africa, in the midst of Francophone and Anglophone countries, and could potentially destabilise the whole region,” says Chafer. “So both France and the UK have a shared interest in promoting, developing and maintaining stability.”

Chad is singled out as an example of a one-sided mission with limited British involvement, but the report’s authors think change is coming. The French and British several times come together at times of crisis – for example in the DRC in 2008, when then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner gave a joint statement.

But in general, cooperation has been on an ad hoc basis, and often based on the characters involved and whether or not they got on well.

“Some of the changes that have been announced on the Defence front would have been unthinkable before the elections,” says Cumming. “If it is possible for Britain and France to actually share essential defence assets, it should not be impossible to cooperate on Africa, which is much less contentious, much less at stake, that there should be scope.”

Unlike the French and British rivalry during the Scramble to Africa and the values of commerce, civilisation and Christianity – this report envisages an end to quarrels over security, development aid and governance – based on a shared interest in a stable Africa.

Radio France Internationale

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