The Douala-Djibouti Corridor

lkThe current French involvement in the Central African Republic, which follows in the footsteps of its ongoing “Operation Serval” in Mali, has led many to wonder about President Francois Hollande’s goals in his African campaigns.

In recent months, the CAR’s ex-Séléka Muslim rebel fighters, bolstered by Sudanese and Chadian mercenaries, have waged a campaign of murder, rape and pillage against the country’s 80% Christian-majority population. With the government in disarray, Christians have organized defensive “anti-balaka” (“anti-machete”) militia groups that have carried out reprisal actions. The spiraling inter-religious violence has displaced half a million people and claimed a thousand civilian lives in December 2013 alone.

The French military “Opération Sangaris,” supported by the African peace-keeping force, MISCA, is engaged in a crisis intervention aimed at stabilizing the CAR and protecting its civilian population. Given the dramatic context, the French action to disarm the various militias, secure the infrastructure necessary for the distribution of humanitarian aid, and re-establish public order is admirable.

Yet, the ramifications of events in the CAR extend far beyond its own borders. The country’s descent into chaos, indeed, would be like a volcanic eruption in this combustible region, affecting the future of a strip of nations stretching from the Cameroonian port of Douala on the Atlantic to Djibouti on the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.

First, a power vacuum in the CAR would clear the way for Chad to seize the country’s oil- and diamond-rich north. Instability would also increase on its borders with Sudan and the DRC. A further menace would unfold in the form of attacks against Cameroon by the militant Nigerian jihadist group, Boko Haram, with Al-Qaeda, AQIM and Al-Shabaab likely to join the fray. Moreover, the turmoil would open the door to involvement by extremist groups in the illegal mining and sale of diamonds, precious metals and uranium, with all that implies for regional and global security.

“Opération Sangaris” is named for the Red Glider, a butterfly native to the area, as an expression of its planned short life.  However, the chronic issues in the CAR will not be solved by temporarily imposing order only to allow the cycle of violence to begin again once the forces are withdrawn.

For it is the problem of failed states – ruled by dictatorial regimes that routinely disregard human rights and looting their countries’ wealth, while some Western corporations turn a profitable blind eye – that lies at the heart of CAR’s troubles and of those of the wider region.  Among the consequences of this corruption is the tragic lack of economic development in a region abundant in natural resources.  With few exceptions and despite limited economic progress (at least in statistical reports), Africa is the only continent to have been left behind the wave of socio-economic growth that raised up much of the Third World at the end of the 20th century.

Over the past decade, China, Russia and the Arab world have recognized this shockingly under-developed continent’s immense economic potential and invested heavily in certain countries.  The United States and Europe woke to the opportunity more belatedly.  As President Hollande acknowledged in 2013: “African growth pulls us along, its dynamism supports us and its vitality is stimulating for us. We need Africa.”

With their historical links to these lands, France and the United Kingdom, cooperating under the 2010 Lancaster House security cooperation treaty, are facing a moment of truth.  It is becoming more and more difficult to ignore their obligation to assist the desire of the region’s peoples for a durable democratization process that will end the incessant cycle of military coups and civil wars.

Visiting Western heads of state routinely promote democracy, accountability, transparency and development.   But unlike most of the countries now sowing the seeds of their future economic interests in Africa, the liberal democracies – and particularly France and the UK – have both the ideological incentive and the tools to act more responsibly.  Their leaders have the statutory and executive power to prioritize business ethics, corporate responsibility and sustainable development in the way their nationals engage in commercial enterprises abroad.

Explicitly translating their national leaders’ words into deeds, corporations should adopt ethical “best practices” in their African business dealings, transforming their signature on commercial contracts into a hand extended in friendship to the local communities, to Africa’s people, to its youth.  Just as they do at home.

To assist Africa with discarding its chronic socio-economic malaise, France should take a longer view in its current intervention.   This would require turning “Opération Sangaris” into the kernel of a wider initiative to bring security, free-market economic growth and democratic rule of law to a “Douala-Djibouti Corridor” of model countries.

Such a corridor would serve three functions. First, it would create the prerequisite stability to improve its peoples’ quality of life.  Second, it would benefit three of its major neighbours – Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya – still struggling with their own transitions towards “full democracy” status.  Third, it would serve as a beacon of hope for the citizens of the authoritarian regimes outside the corridor, guiding them in their journey towards a brighter, freer, more prosperous future.

From Douala in the west through the CAR, South Sudan and Ethiopia to Djibouti in the east, the future of this strip of states will in large measure determine the futures of more than a billion Africans, from the Mediterranean to the Cape.  The CAR capital Bangui is the pivot point, the key to the 21st century’s “New Frontier”.

France’s “Opération Sangaris” may, at cursory glance, appear more like simply another fire-fighting mission than the start of a recovery for central Africa. But with a little far-sightedness, it could lead to the creation of a “Douala-Djibouti corridor” of liberal democracies, a belt of freedom and hope for its ordinary men, women and children.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry revealed in the “The Little Prince,” work is needed before we can enjoy life’s glories: “We must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if we wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”

Jérôme Vitenberg is an international political analyst. He has taught Political Science and International relations for the LSE via the University of London’s International Programs at DEI College, Greece, and has been a Sales manager for Africa in the telecommunications industry.

  • Jason P

    Vitenberg, you propose an ambitious program for France. It is noble in intent but it will take a long term commitment. Let’s indeed praise Mr. Hollande for France’s renewed effort as he fills a vacuum created by Mr. Obama. Indeed this may be an pleasant unintended consequence to Obama’s “lead from behind” policy. After all, France and the UK were always more suited for benevolent colonial practices … we have no such tradition.

  • The Facts

    Today is a good day to count the colonialist articles. An entire center column of everything from Obama, to Black people smoking joints, to a makeover for Central African Republic. DHFC knows what’s best for all Africans all over the world today. One can see Mr. Horowitz’s seething hatred over the Betty van Patter incident in every word. The fateful day that David failed to take over the Black Panther Party and flip it into an organ of militant Zionism through financial blackmail has yielded this festering, 40 year attempt to get revenge.

    • johnlac

      Yes, and it’s also a good day to count the anti-Semitic, leftist trolls who infest websites like FPM.

    • True Facts

      Seriously, is someone like David Horowitz, who grew up a communist household, going to try to take over the Black Panthers? He was a red diaper baby. He attended Communist summer camps in the Allegheny Mountains.

      So you think Betty van Patter murder was a good thing?

      No, you cannot quite bring yourself to say it.

      So you use the EUPHEMISM of ‘incident’ instead of “murder”. What a coward.

      Whenever I see an EUPHEMISM used I know the person is a two faced snake.

      Maybe you are not a coward. Maybe you think your argument in your eyes is less persuasive if you use the word murder and say that is not something to be upset about.

      • The Facts

        Actually, no. You’re imagining things. First, you’re wrong about the Horowitz biography. Secondly, yes it was a murder. No. I did not say it was a good thing. Your contradictions are cheap, as is your grasp of The Facts.

    • Steve

      Proud of the accomplishment of your fellows?

      87% of Women in Muslim Bangladesh are Abused

    • Drakken

      Funny thing is, when colonialism ran things, the world was a pretty peaceful place considering, and kept the tribal nonsense to a dull roar, kept the Islamic scourge at bay, and here you are as a 3rd world lover blaming the white man again, too funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

      • UCSPanther

        It was the French who saved the CAR from that wannabe emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa…

    • objectivefactsmatter

      Some times good sensible leadership can be characterized as colonialism. Almost anything can be characterized as colonialism.

      “The fateful day that David failed to take over the Black Panther Party and flip it into an organ of militant Zionism through financial blackmail has yielded this festering, 40 year attempt to get revenge.”

      For some reason your characterizations are not that meaningful to me.

      • The Facts

        We tend to not have emotions about things in areas where we are amoral or morally ambiguous. When people are prone to write books that recast their pasts, such as Horowitz or Wiesel, the only characterizations that wound are those by former comrades. The Sol Stern stuff is good reading. I agree with the part you said about how good sensible leadership can be characterized as colonialism, but French occupation and resource extraction in Africa is what I meant. Those same forces now reappear as social workers. Perhaps you have some insight as to why Frontpage is doing a massive waxwork on Black criminality this week.

        • objectivefactsmatter

          “…French occupation and resource extraction in Africa is what I meant.”

          It’s usually more productive when we’re specific early on.

          “Those same forces now reappear as social workers.”

          When we look at the full context, it seems like colonialism is often a good thing.

          “Perhaps you have some insight as to why Frontpage is doing a massive waxwork on Black criminality this week.”

          I honestly didn’t notice any particular trends. I personally don’t think it has anything to do with race other than the fact that people tend to organize socially around their kin and people they identify with. Noticing these trends is not ipso facto racism.

  • Drakken

    Jerome is another Quixotic do gooder who thinks that the west can save Africa from itself, it can’t. There is also western leaders who think that the west needs Africa, it doesn’t, Africa needs us for the all the goodies it can get. You want to stabilize the regions? Help the Christians stave off the muslims, for a start, then you have a basis to work off of, anything else is a fools errand. Put the strongest tribal leader in charge and then change as often as needed. Corporations are going into these regions because of the instability and have taken matters into their own hands because western govts get all weepy when they have to kill people and destroy things to pacify a region. Why do you think oil, gas, pipelines and shipping companies have private contractors to get the job done when govts are afraid to?

  • marineh2ominer

    Never bet on France to see any thing good to come out of any situation . , they enjoy snatching defeat from the jaws of victory just as much as the American republican leadership .

  • Porkys2istan

    This article is pointless, but I can’t help but notice that everything north of the this ‘line of democracy’ is muslim and everything south of it is (mostly) non-muslim.

    Perhaps France has something else in mind with all this intervention? Maybe a permanent partition of Africa into a muslim north and a non-muslim south like India and Pakistan?

    Just a thought.