Central African Republic: Renewed relations with France despite Russian military presence

President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadéra on the left and president of France Emmanuel Macron on the right. Screenshot from the France 24 YouTube channel. Fair use.

In 2018, the Central African Republic (CAR) welcomed the Wagner paramilitary group as part of a military collaboration agreement with Russia. This agreement angered France, which saw its interests threatened and its influence challenged, thus signaling the start of a diplomatic crisis between Bangui, the Central African Republic capital, and Paris.

At that time, France threatened to end all cooperation with this country, where Faustin-Archange Touadéra has been president since March 2016. Despite gaining independence on August 13, 1960, this former French colony soon faced considerable political unrest, thus calling upon France numerous times. France’s latest military intervention, Operation Sangaris, took place between December 5, 2013, and October 31, 2016, at the request of François Bozizé (president from 2003 to 2013)At the end of this operation, 130 French military personnel remained in the country as part of a logistics mission. 

In a March 2018 report, which French-language news site Corbeau News Centrafrique (CNC) covered, Paris condemned the treatment of its personnel in this country. According to CNC, Paris complained about the searches its aircraft undergoes. In this article, CNC wrote:

(…) leurs avions qui sont parfois surveillé comme de l’huile sur le feu par des hommes en armés identifiés comme des mercenaires russes sur la piste de l’aéroport Bangui Mpoko lors de leur atterrissage. (…) la France se réserve le droit de rappeler son Ambassadeur et par ricochet, suspendrait toutes ses relations diplomatiques et commerciales avec la RCA.

(…) armed Russian mercenaries on Bangui Mpoko Airport’s runway often closely inspect their aircraft upon landing. (…) France thereby reserves the right to withdraw its ambassador and suspend all diplomatic and commercial relations with the CAR.

As such, France suspended its budgetary aid for the Central African Republic and ended its military cooperation. Paris stated:

A plusieurs reprises, les autorités centrafricaines ont pris des engagements qu'elles n'ont pas tenus, tant sur le plan politique envers l'opposition que sur le comportement vis-à-vis de la France, qui est la cible d'une campagne de désinformation massive en RCA. Les Russes n'y sont pas pour rien, mais les Centrafricains sont au mieux complices de cette campagne.

The Central African government has repeatedly made commitments it hasn’t upheld, both politically towards the opposition and in terms of attitude towards France, which is the target of a massive disinformation campaign in the CAR. Although the Russians have nothing to do with this campaign, the Central Africans are complicit.

Talks resume

Following a longstanding dispute between these two countries, diplomatic discussions resumed in September 2023. At France’s request, a meeting took place between French President Emmanuel Macron and Faustin-Archange Touadéra in Paris on September 13, 2023. The discussions between the leaders focused on various issues, including the suspension of French budgetary aid, sovereignty, and the Wagner paramilitary group’s presence in the Central African Republic. On X (formerly Twitter), Touadéra wrote:

By invitation of #President @EmmanuelMacron, I attended the #Elysée on a working visit.

With President #MACRON, we discussed  the matter of #cooperation between our two countries at length [..]

1/3 pic.twitter.com/zgCdhA0245

— Faustin-Archange Touadéra (@FA_Touadera) September 14, 2023

On April 17, 2024, another meeting took place in which Macron and Touadéra adopted a roadmap, thus laying the foundations for new bilateral relations between both countries. According to a statement quoted on Radio France Internationale (RFI), the Élysée intends to:

(…) contribuer à la stabilité, de renforcer une cohésion nationale aussi large que possible et d'accompagner le développement économique et social de la Centrafrique.

(…) assist with stability, strengthen national unity as much as possible, and support the Central African Republic’s social and economic development.

The French embassy in the Central African Republic published the following statement on X:

President @EmmanuelMacron and his Central African counterpart, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, discussed bilateral relations and the regional situation at the @Elysee. They adopted a roadmap to strengthen ties between our countries. @RCA_Renaissance pic.twitter.com/doIHG2yNLy


Wednesday, April 17, 2024, Elysée Palace


The President of the Republic met with the President of the Central African Republic, Mr Faustin-Archange TOUADERA, at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

During this meeting, the heads of state reviewed various aspects of their bilateral relations and the regional situation. The two leaders approved a roadmap that was in keeping with their last meeting on September 13. It aims to build a constructive partnership framework that respects state sovereignty and assists with stability, strengthens national unity, and supports the country’s social and economic development.

The two leaders also adopted a joint framework for monitoring these commitments.

Upon leaving this meeting, Touadéra explained that there had never been a rift between his country and France. He told media outlet France 24:

La République Centrafricaine n'a jamais chassé les Français, ça aussi fait partie de la désinformation ou de l'incompréhension. Nous avons dit qu'à un moment donné, c'est la France qui avait retiré les forces sangaristes [les militaires français de l'opération Sangaris] mais ce n'est plus une question d'actualité. Aujourd'hui, nous sommes en train de revoir dans quel champ nous pouvons donc coopérer dans le respect de la souveraineté des pays.

The Central African Republic never drove out the French, which is also part of this disinformation or a misunderstanding. At one point, we did say that France had withdrawn its troops from Operation Sangaris, but this is no longer an issue. We are currently reviewing the areas in which we can cooperate while respecting the sovereignty of both countries.

Despite Russia’s ongoing presence, the increase in the number of meetings between France and the Central African Republic in such a short time frame undoubtedly highlights their desire for a fresh start. The Russian instructors deployed in this country train the battalions in the Central African Republic’s armed forces. Others protect Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

A column in the Jeune Afrique magazine by Franco-Burkinabé columnist and cartoonist Damien GlezTouadéra-Macron : quand la Centrafrique ménage le coq français et l’ours russe” (Touadéra-Macron: When the Central African Republic does right by the French rooster and the Russian bear) describes the way things are between Touadéra and these two powers. In his publication, Damien Glez writes:

Pionnière du partenariat avec les mercenaires de la société paramilitaire Wagner, la Centrafrique pourrait bientôt faire figure de laboratoire d’une certaine cohabitation franco-russe.

As a pioneer in partnership with mercenaries from the Wagner paramilitary group, the Central African Republic could soon act as a laboratory for Franco-Russian co-existence.

Further on in this satirical publication, the columnist comments:

Selon le discours officiel clamé par Bangui, le pays entend toujours entretenir son lien avec la France qui fut, elle aussi, synonyme de présence militaire significative. Chéri par le Kremlin, le président centrafricain Faustin-Archange Touadéra ménage donc la chèvre française et le chou russe. Ou plutôt le coq et l’ours.

According to Bangui’s official statement, the country intends to maintain ties with France, which also means a significant military presence.
Cherished by the Kremlin, President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadéra is keeping France and Russia, or rather, the rooster and the bear, sweet.

Online reactions

Some Central African internet users believe restoring dialogue between these two countries will be ineffective. According to some comments, after ending France’s presence in Africa and involving Russia, it would be a mistake for Touadéra to go back on his earlier stance.

On X, an internet user commented on the announcement, which for them is just the pretext for France’s return to this country:

France and the Central African Republic have reviewed their bilateral relations and adopted a roadmap for a positive partnership that respects the state’s sovereignty and strengthens stability and unity.

France can never respect the sovereignty of an African state.

This is the pretext for a return to the Central African Republic 🇨🇫. @FA_Touadera has been warned! We accept bilateral partnerships but not superiority in these agreements. However, knowing Paris 🇨🇵… I prefer to keep quiet and watch what happens next.

In February 2024, the CAR  announced the creation of a Russian military base, a first for Moscow in Africa.

Now that cooperation appears to have resumed between these two countries, what will Paris do about Moscow in a country that knows how to play one power against the other?

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