France is intervening in two African countries, using troops and fighter aircraft to defend the regimes in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) from rebel forces. The interventions come without any debate in the French parliament.
There are about 1,300 French troops in Chad, following a conflict with Libya in the 1980s. They are now being used to assist the Chadian army, providing it with aerial reconnaissance, and transporting troops, medicine and weapons.
In the CAR, Mirage fighter planes were used last month to destroy rebel positions. The same planes were used in April last year to stop rebels entering Chad's capital, N'Djamena.
France has never accepted the independence of its former colonies. It has sought to keep these countries in a state of dependence. On an economic level this was done through the integration of most of the former colonies into the CFA Franc currency zone, debt and the presence of French multinationals. These include Totalfina in the oil sector, Bolloré in logistics, Veolia in water, and BNP Paribas and Société Général in banking.
On a military level, there are assistance treaties and in some cases permanent military bases, for example in Djibouti, Gabon, Senegal and Chad.
There are three reasons for these policies. The first is to ensure France's standing on the world stage. For example, in 1995, 41 African countries voted against or abstained on a United Nations resolution condemning the resumption of French nuclear tests in the Pacific.
A second reason is the exploitation of African resources. These include oil in Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville and Angola, and uranium in Niger, as well as other raw materials such as precious woods, latex, coffee and cocoa. The third and less well known reason is that African governments have always financed the big French political parties.
These reasons help forge a political consensus between conservatives and socialists - so much so that African affairs have always been the private domain of the French president, rather than parliament. This state of affairs contributed to arms sales to Angola, and support for dictators such as former Chadian president Hissène Habré and Liberia's former leader Charles Taylor - both of them accused of crimes against humanity by the international criminal court.
Support for dictators
Following each intervention government spokespeople swear, hand on heart, that French involvement in Africa is over. But at times of crisis, their hands go to their wallets, and France intervenes in support of dictators. This is the case again today, with French involvement in Chad and the CAR.
France supports the Chadian president Idriss Deby. This corrupt leader modified a law that guaranteed oil revenue would be used for social services, instead using the proceeds to buy arms, and to enrich himself and his friends. Deby also changed the law to allow himself to run for a third presidential term.
When CAR president François Bozizé took power in 2003, his militias committed crimes against the civilian population, as exposed by the International Federation for Human Rights.
The rebels opposing the regimes in the CAR and Chad are no better. In the CAR they are former supporters of Bozizé. They participated in his coup against former president Felix Ange Patasse, but did not feel they had been sufficiently rewarded. In Chad there is a myriad of armed factions. Some are supported by neighbouring Sudan - this is the case with the United Front for Change - and others by former supporters of Deby.
In both conflicts civilians pay the price. They are the victims of both rebel and government forces. As Amnesty International explained, "We have seen a dramatic upsurge in ever more brutal attacks on civilians which have occurred further and further into Chad, yet the Chadian military and police are not even making a token effort to protect their own citizens.
"The government faces a real threat from the rebel forces. However, even when they have the means, they have still refused pleas for help from their own civilians."
Instead of promoting political solutions to these conflicts, France prefers to play one faction off against another. The horror inflicted on these two African countries is a result of decades of intervention by France - which condones coups, fraudulent elections, persecution of political opponents and corruption.