ABSTRACT

At the height of the so-called post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, on 6 April 2011, the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro ran the headline “In Côte d’Ivoire and in Libya, Obama is satisfied with the secondary roles”.2 In a similar vein and also referring to Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, as well as Afghanistan, the New York Times ran an article the same day with the headline “France’s Role in Three Conflicts Displays a More Muscular Policy”.3 Thus, in spring 2011, while the conflict in Libya and France’s role therein featured most prominently in the media, the muscular French intervention in Côte d’Ivoire did not go unnoticed. Although the French Licorne Force operated alongside UN troops in the final assault on proGbagbo forces, it had a decisive impact on the outcome of the crisis. The French military intervention finally allowed the Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI) to arrest Laurent Gbagbo, and Alassane Ouattara to take the reins of power according to the certified results of the December 2010 presidential elections.4 France thus appeared as the “kingmaker” in the post-electoral crisis. It was not the first time that France had played an influential role in the Ivorian crisis. Since 2002 it had repeatedly intervened as a peace-broker, peacekeeper and peace-enforcer. The French acted, however, alongside the UN, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and individual regional and sub-regional powers. The question thus arises of whether France was only “first among equals” or, in light of its prominent role in the Ivorian crisis, the predominant external actor in the Ivorian theatre, and thereby hampered subregional, regional and international peacekeeping efforts. Although the French forces were placed, from 2003, under a UN mandate, and operated first in partnership with ECOWAS and then with UN troops, they nevertheless maintained their operational autonomy and remained under national command. Consequently, France’s security role in Côte d’Ivoire ran contrary to the military disengagement, as well as the “multilateralisation” of crisis management and “Africanisation” of peacekeeping, which Paris had

advocated and professed to follow since the mid-1990s, and which had been confirmed by the government of Nicolas Sarkozy;5 and especially since in theory, France’s strategic re-orientation corresponded perfectly to regional and sub-regional crisis management aspirations. Under the slogan of “African solutions to African problems”, both the AU and ECOWAS have become increasingly active in peacekeeping over the last two decades.6