• France's news in English
 
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

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."

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French favour end of force-fed foie gras
Photo: Kevorks Djansezian/Getty Images/ AFP

French favour end of force-fed foie gras

Almost one out of every two French people now favour banning the force-feeding of geese and ducks to produce the national delicacy, foie gras, a survey showed. READ  

Journo sparks outcry with 'insular Muslim' jibe
Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP

Journo sparks outcry with 'insular Muslim' jibe

Prominent French journalist Eric Zemmour was back in the spotlight Saturday after being barred by a news channel for saying Muslims were elbowing French people out of the suburbs. READ  

Russia warns France over Mistral delay
Photo: Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP

Russia warns France over Mistral delay

Russia will gladly take back the money it paid for French Mistral-class warships whose handover has been delayed by concerns over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, a deputy defence minister said Saturday. READ  

French cardinal named as papal back up
Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP

French cardinal named as papal back up

Pope Francis on Saturday named French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran the new camerlengo, or chamberlain, charged with temporarily taking over the pontiff's duties if he resigns or dies. READ  

French police kill knife-wielding man
Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP

French police kill knife-wielding man

French police on Saturday shot dead a man who attacked them with a knife in a police station while shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great" in Arabic), a source said. READ  

French bus driver faked assault in paid leave ploy
The town hall in Goussainville. Photo: P.Poschadel/Wikimedia

French bus driver faked assault in paid leave ploy

A 23-year-old bus driver in suburban Paris was handed a six month suspended prison sentence Friday for staging his own assault in a ploy to obtain paid sick leave. READ  

French fishmonger nabbed in naked display
A French fishmonger (unrelated to the story). File photo: Pascal Pochard Casabianca/AFP

French fishmonger nabbed in naked display

A French fishmonger in women's lingerie was left with a lot of explaining to do after being arrested for exposing himself to holiday shoppers through his store window. READ  

EasyJet strike grounds France Xmas flights
Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP

EasyJet strike grounds France Xmas flights

EasyJet flight attendants, angry over scheduling and pay, announced Friday a strike expected to force the low-cost carrier to cancel about half its flights in France the day after Christmas. READ  

French ex-airline boss: ‘Missing MH370 covered up’
Photo: Shutterstock

French ex-airline boss: ‘Missing MH370 covered up’

A former airline boss is making waves in France after he claimed that the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in March had been covered up, and that the aircraft was likely hijacked by a hacker and possibly shot down by the US. READ  

French mayor wins battle to keep nativity scene
The mayor of Beziers, supported by the French far-right National Front party (FN), Robert Menard, looks at a nativity scene displayed at the Beziers city hall. Photo: Pascal Guyot

French mayor wins battle to keep nativity scene

As the annual Christmas battle over nativity scenes rages in France, it was a victory for the traditionalists in southern Montpellier on Friday as a court refused to order the removal of a town hall creche. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Santa bikers ride through Paris for orphans
Culture
Top 10 tackiest 'Made in France' gifts
Gallery
10 traditions that make a French Christmas
Culture
GALLERY: The French language's fixation with 'les Anglais'
Society
So what does the web tell us about the French in the year 2014
Society
Have the French fallen out of love with Christmas?
National
Immigration in France: Hollande hits back at the scaremongers
Culture
What's on: 10 things to do in France before Christmas
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
National
Muslims rule France in 2022: The bad boy of French literature is back
Gallery
There are so many things that claim to be French but aren't. Here are 12.
National
Crazy cat stories: Moggie returns after 1,200km trek across France
National
Tea sets for boys? French feminists protest 'gendered' Christmas presents
National
Jacques Chirac's 'head' - The perfect place to hide 1.5 kilos of weed
Gallery
Myths debunked: 11 things you (wrongly) presumed about France
National
Prices are tumbling but the property ladder is increasingly out of reach for the French
Education
IN IMAGES: French universities 'in ruin'. The students have the evidence
National
Life's about to get a lot cheaper for Paris commuters. Or is it?
Gallery
Ten dos and don'ts for partying with the French this Christmas
National
Some famous French fine wines are under threat from high speed trains
National
VIDEO: Homeless bodybuilder turns the streets of Paris into his gym
Business & Money
Noble Prize for Economics: Six things to know about Jean Tirole
Culture
Nobel Literature Prize: Ten things to know about Patrick Modiano
Gallery
Looking for a good Christmas market in France? Here's our top 10
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The top 15 new inventions to come out of France
Sponsored Article
Top ten gifts for an expat Christmas
Gallery
Miss France Farmer: The contest to find a 'real French beauty'
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Lyon's spectacular festival of lights dazzles once again
Gallery
IN IMAGES: Ten French Bond girls through the ages
National
Outrage forces French city to scrap yellow triangle ID cards for homeless
Gallery
Who does Christmas better - The French or Anglos? We decide.
National
All you need to know about the new French Bond girl Léa Seydoux
International
'My iPod's broken' - French jihadists moan about lack of home comforts
National
Race you to the top of the Eiffel Tower. No seriously, I'll race you.
National
And what if Mona Lisa was really a slave from China?
Opinion
Why company bosses in France have just about had enough
National
What impact did a 'giant butt plug' in Paris have on sales of sex toys?
Travel
National Geographic's top world destination for 2015 is in France.
Society
French babies switched at birth: Families seek €12 million damages
National
Why are so many French police officers taking their own lives?
Society
Immigration in France: Ten numbers that matter
Sponsored Article
Win a €250 voucher for your Christmas list
National
Sarko is back in the ring: Did he ever really leave it?
National
IN IMAGES: Yet more fatal floods hit the south of France
Gallery
Forget tourism and wine, here are 10 OTHER ways France leads the world
Sponsored Article
Live like a local - anywhere in the world
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
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