Perhaps in an effort to avert his plunging approval ratings, Francois Hollande, president of France, is currently visiting South Africa. The aim of this trip seems to be multi-fold, with the emphasis being on the creation of an African peace-keeping unit and the strengthening of economic ties between France and South Africa.
Earlier today, Hollande commented on the recent collapse of the government in the Central African Republic. In March, the Seleka rebel group overthrew the country's government, and there has yet to be a replacement. As it currently stands, the CAR is rampant with anarchist rebels and sectarian violence.
"There is a political emergency because there is no state.There is also an emergency at a regional level because there is a risk of spillover. We might witness religious conflict," stated Hollande as he addressed reporters in Pretoria.
As of now, France has 400 troops stationed in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. This force is supporting a 2,500 man group sent to the CAR by the African Union. France's numbers in the CAR could increase to 750 if the UN approves a resolution to send a peace-keeping force to the war-torn country.
South Africa is intimately involved in the situation in the Central African Republic. In March, South Africa lost 14 troops in clashes with rebel forces. While South Africa has not agreed to assist France with this peace-keeping mission, they have decided to partner with them in other matters.
South African President Jacob Zuma accepted an $8 billion infrastructure deal with France today, as well. The two main components of the deal addressed energy and transportation concerns for South Africa.
In 2008, South African energy conglomerate Eskom could not keep up with the growing energy demands, and thus massive energy outages drastically affected production in South Africa. Currently, Eskom is working to create 2 new coal-fired energy stations. South Africa receives 90% of its energy through coal. However, this new deal with France gives South Africa $2 billion to create a thermal energy plant and a solar farm.
France and Hollande also structured a transportation deal with South Africa in order to combat their outrageous unemployment rates. Earlier this month, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) stated that South Africa had to take steps to reform its economy if it was to avoid a financial crisis. As it currently stands, South Africa faces a 25% unemployment rate.
This rate should decrease soon, though, with an agreement with France to bolster South Africa's rail system. The $5.4 billion contract will hopefully create thousands of jobs, with South Africa building 600 trains and 3,600 passenger cars.
France has remained intimately involved with its former African colonies, moreso than any other Western nation. Much of this may be due to the close proximity of the southern French coastline to the northern part of Africa and the large numbers of Muslim immigrants to the country every year. Many people believe that these particular efforts by Hollande are being made to reduce the negative image of the "France-Afrique," a term used to implicate France in underhanded political and economic deals with its former colonies.
Image via Facebook