• France edition
 
Mali crisis gives Hollande chance to boost image
French President Francois Hollande (right) meets members of Malian associations in France during a meeting at the Elysee Palace. Photo Philippe Wojazer/AFP

Mali crisis gives Hollande chance to boost image

Published: 14 Jan 2013 09:11 GMT+01:00
Updated: 14 Jan 2013 09:11 GMT+01:00

A stagnating economy, a crippling debt crisis and a string of policy U-turns and abandoned promises have all combined to send the 58-year-old Socialist's approval ratings into freefall in the eight months since he was elected as France's head of state and commander-in-chief.

A complicated private life in which his girlfriend has appeared to be influencing appointments because of a feud with the mother of his four children has not helped Hollande establish an air of authority around the Elysee Palace.

The crisis in Mali however has offered him the chance to forge a different image in the eyes of French voters, albeit an opportunity fraught with risk. "With all military action there are risks involved," Hollande's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared bullishly at the weekend.

"But what we have seen with Francois Hollande is that when the time came for a decision to be made, his hand did not tremble."

Intervention wins approval at home and abroad

Arguably Hollande was left with no decision to make after Islamist forces last week advanced into positions in central Mali that left the capital Bamako, home to 6,000 French nationals, vulnerable to attack.

Nevertheless, the unleashing of France's warplanes on Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic groups in the former colony has, so far, won broad approval at home and around the world.

The feeling in Brussels, London and Washington seems to be that France has taken on a task that, while potentially messy, is one that someone had to accept. Dissenting voices have been rare.

Hollande came to power insisting that France's days of meddling in the internal affairs of its former colonies in Africa were over.

He has worked assiduously to build a new relationship with Algeria and there are signs that his efforts to consign decades of mistrust and misunderstanding to the dustbin of history have paid a diplomatic dividend.

In perhaps the most surprising development of the Mali crisis so far, the government in Algiers on Sunday allowed French Rafale fighter jets to fly over the country's airspace on their way to bombing Islamist bases in northern Mali.

Turning point for Hollande

"Mali could be a turning point in his term of office," said political expert Frederic Dabi of the Ifop polling institute.

"Up until now every decision he took was systematically attacked or criticised by the opposition, but that is not an option in this case when national unity is required.”

In the early hours of Monday, it appeared that French airpower had stemmed the Islamists advance in the centre and inflicted significant damage on some of their northern bases.

Those successes offered Hollande and his political lieutenants grounds to defend a course of action that would appear to be at odds with the philosophy that led the president to remove French troops from counter-insurgency, anti-Islamist duties in Afghanistan as soon as he possibly could after being
elected.

But the weekend also offered a reminder of just how easily a resort to military force can go wrong.

In the space of 48 hours, the French military suffered casualties in Mali and Somalia that critics will inevitably put down to naivete on the part of Hollande, his advisors and France's security establishment.

Hollande's own aides have recognised that the Islamist fighters confronted in central Mali were better equipped, armed and trained than they had anticipated.

Such candour is unusual and perhaps admirable but the admission that France had essentially failed to do its homework on the rebels is unlikely to have gone down well with the family of Lieutenant Damien Boiteux, the pilot killed his helicopter was shot down by those unexpectedly well-armed militants.

 In Somalia, an operation aimed at freeing an intelligence agent held by Islamist militants there since 2009 ended with a disastrous scoresheet of one French soldier dead, another one missing presumed dead and the likelihood that the hostage-takers had executed their captive.

It emerged on Sunday that the French special forces involved in the operation had been spotted as soon as they landed in Somalia, three kilometres (two miles) from where the hostage was being held, ensuring the captors of their compatriot were tipped off and were waiting for them with more than twice the number of men.

Even if France can steer clear of similar debacles in Mali, there is no guarantee that Hollande will reap the benefit at the polls.

His predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was widely praised as the architect of the NATO-backed campaign that led to Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi being ousted from power in 2011.

France's involvement in that campaign was concluded without a single casualty but the voters still turned away from Sarkozy at the polls a year later. 

"Foreign policy," Sarkozy was later to lament, "when it goes wrong you get the blame, when it goes right, you don't get any credit."

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France weighs medicine sales at supermarkets
Could medicine soon be available in supermarkets in France? Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP

France weighs medicine sales at supermarkets

France’s top financial watchdog says it’s time to end the monopoly pharmacies have on selling over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol as well as cold and flu remedies. The watchdog believes introducing competition will bring down prices. READ  

Air Algérie crash: pilots asked to 'turn back'
This photo shows debris of the Air Algerie Flight AH 5017 scattered at the crash site in Mali's Gossi region, west of Gao, on July 26, 2014. Photo: AFP

Air Algérie crash: pilots asked to 'turn back'

France was mourning on Monday as authorities revealed the pilots aboard the Air Algérie flight had asked permission to turn back just before the jet went down, killing 118 people. Bad weather has been increasingly blamed for the accident. READ  

Imperiled Iraqi Christians offered asylum in France
France has offered asylum to Iraqi Christians displaced by islamist militants. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP

Imperiled Iraqi Christians offered asylum in France

France has offered asylum to thousands of Christians in Iraq displaced by threats and violence from the jihadists who have invaded portions of the country. The islamists have given Christians the ultimatum of convert or leave. READ  

Two Irish montaineers killed on Mont Blanc
Two climbers incuding one Irishman were killed in a fall on Mont Blanc on Sunday. Photo: Philippe Merle/AFP

Two Irish montaineers killed on Mont Blanc

Two Irishmen were killed in after slipping and falling in the Mont Blanc range on Sunday. It comes after an American businessman outraged French authorities for trying to scale the mountain with his young children. READ  

Tourists picnic with rats in Louvre gardens
Another Parisian rat. Photo: Jean-Jacques Boujot.

Tourists picnic with rats in Louvre gardens

VIDEO: The lawns of the Louvre, a favourite picnic haunt of tourists and Parisians, are offering visitors a real-life Ratatouille experience after being invaded by rodents. READ  

France's Muslims mark the end of 'holiest month'
France's Muslims will mark the end of holiest month on Monday. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

France's Muslims mark the end of 'holiest month'

France’s Muslim population, which is the largest in Europe, will end on Monday its holiest festival of the year: Ramadan. However, the date is not without controversy due to the unique way the annual rite’s duration is chosen. READ  

Lion wounds 16-month-old child at French circus
A lion injured a child at a French circus. Photo: Alexandre Imamura/Flickr

Lion wounds 16-month-old child at French circus

A lion reached out of its cage and scratched a 16-month-old girl at a circus in France on Sunday, injuring the child's head and back. The news came the same day as a not guilty verdict for the owner of a circus elephant that killed an elderly pétanque player. READ  

Marseille: Pro-Israel march held amid tension
Thousands march in support of Israel in Marseille. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

Marseille: Pro-Israel march held amid tension

Up to 6,000 demonstrators marched through the French city of Marseille on Sunday in support of Israel. The rally was held amid tight security as dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters tried to disrupt the demonstration. READ  

French nationals told to flee chaos in Libya
Libyan security services and civilians gather across the street after a car bomb attack on the French embassy in Tripoli, Libya on April 23rd, 2013. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AF

French nationals told to flee chaos in Libya

France has warned its nationals to leave Libya due to the worsening security situation there and the threat of terror attacks. French warnings come amid similar calls for evacuation from other European nations and the United States. READ  

Italian Nibali wins 2014 Tour de France
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (R) wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey toasts champagne with Astana teammates. Photo: Jean-Paul Pelissier/AFP

Italian Nibali wins 2014 Tour de France

Italian Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France on Sunday after the final stage that ended on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue. Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot finished second and third. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Why you should think twice about feeding stray cats in France
National
And the new redrawn map of France will look like...?
Politics
Is French President François Hollande about to tie the knot?
International
Want a long-term visa? You may soon have to take a French test
International
Votes for foreigners: 'France would be giving up its sovereignty'
National
VIDEO: Stuntman jumps onto a moving Paris metro... and survives
Gallery
Forget 'faire l'amour', here's 15 top French expressions for making love
National
Report - 'Anti-Semitic' riots in France: 'We may leave for Israel'
National
Paris Plages: Here's 10 reasons to head down to the city beach
International
'Mont Blanc is like Disneyland. It's time to end the free-for-all'
Travel
Fancy climbing Mont Blanc? Here's 10 reasons to think twice about it
Gallery
Looking for a weird museum in Paris? Here's 10 that are worth a visit
National
Clear your head: Eight tips for buying wine in a French supermarket
National
'Don't blame the labour market for France's unemployment woes!'
National
Job applicants in France: Be prepared to send in an anonymous CV
Sport
'Bouligans' to booze bans: Ten things you need to know about pétanque
Gallery
Driving in France: How to stay out of trouble on the roads
Travel
Ten essential free phone apps for a visit to Paris
Gallery
Like cycling? Love France? See the top ten best cycling routes in France
International
'They think beer is a vegetable': What the French really think of Germans
National
Sarkozy's dream of a 2017 comeback is not dead yet
Gallery
Ten reasons why France is better than Germany (we're not talking football)
Gallery
Paris in Summer: Ten things to do on a shoestring
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se