• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Mali crisis gives Hollande chance to boost image

AFP · 14 Jan 2013, 09:11

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.

Story continues below…

 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
Hollande calls on UK to help solve Calais migrant crisis
Photo: AFP

The French president knows that immigration is a key issue of the presidential election battle.

Air France plane dumps fuel 'over Fontainebleau forest'
Photo: AFP

The mayor of the famous town near Paris is furious.

IN PICS: Walkers and cyclists take over Paris streets
Photo: Paris City Hall

Did you make the most of the car-free day in Paris on Sunday?

'War crimes committed in Aleppo': French UN envoy
A tractor clears rubble after a government strike on rebel areas of Aleppo. Photo: Thaer Mohammed/ AFP

France's envoy to the United Nations has called for an urgent Security Council meet on the war crimes he asserts are being committed in Aleppo.

'Curse of Phantom' strikes as Paris theatre burns
Anthony Crivello and Elizabeth Loyacano in the New York production of Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Really Useful Group

The curse of Phantom of the Opera has struck with a fire at a Paris theatre threatening the musical's French debut.

Two teenage girls held in France over 'terror plot'
The girls came from the same part of Nice, near Route de Turin, as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who carried out the nice attacks. Photo: Jesmar/Wikimedia Commons

Two teenage girls from Nice are being held on suspicion of planning a jihadi attack.

Focus
French fighter jet deal: India 'a school of patience'
Rafale jets at an assembly hanger in Merignac, southwestern France. Photo: Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP

The less-than-supersonic sale of French Rafale fighter jets to India has highlighted the obstacles facing foreign arms firms seeking to do business with the world's biggest weapons importer.

Hollande vows to 'completely dismantle' Calais Jungle
French President Francois Hollande visiting a refugee centre in Tours. Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP

President Francois Hollande has bowed to right-wing pressure and stepped up pledge to combat illegal migration.

First driverless minibus goes on trial in Paris
Gilbert Gagnaire, Director General of Easy Mile, poses in front of his driverless EZ10 minibus. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

The French capital's transport authority will carry out its first test of a driverless minibus on Saturday.

Feature
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
Receptionist Ivan Lopez in his tiny "chambre de bonne". Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Thousands of Parisians round off a hard day's work with a trudge up six flights of stairs to a tiny, stuffy room they resignedly call home.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Society
Take the test: How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Lifestyle
Eleven things you should know before moving to Paris
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
National
France among Europe's priciest for train travel
National
Paris set to make river bank car-free for six-month trial
Society
Bordeaux hospital ranked as best in France
2,727
jobs available