France grants help to Gambia and Central Africa; pushes regional clout
(Reuters) - France flexed its muscles in West Africa on Monday granting millions of euros in aid to Gambia to support its democratic transition amid fears of regional instability and took aim at Russia over its “opportunist” role in Central African Republic.
Born of British and French colonial rivalry in the 19th century and surrounded by francophone Senegal, Gambia - a tourist haven and groundnut producer - won independence from Britain in 1965.
President Adama Barrow won the December 2016 election by beating exiled authoritarian former leader Yahya Jammeh, who fled Gambia after regional militaries launched an operation to remove him.
“What counts is France’s support for a democratic transition without any hidden pretences because there was a dictatorship here that was overturned by the ballot box,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters after signing accords in the Gambian capital Banjul.
Le Drian, who was the first senior French official to visit Gambia since a secret trip by then resistance leader Charles de Gaulle in 1943, agreed the first part of a 50 million euros aid package that includes budgetary support, drinking water and agriculture projects.
Paris has major economic interests in neighboring Senegal and wants to ensure that a rebel movement in the southern Casamance area, separated from the more affluent north by Gambia, does not flare up after Jammeh broke ties with Dakar.
The International Monetary Fund has warned Gambia against any new borrowing after its debt stock reached 130 percent of gross domestic product at the end of last year. Financial support from donor countries is crucial as Barrow attempts to reverse many of his predecessor’s most controversial decisions and rehabilitate Gambia’s image abroad.
As part of those efforts, Barrow was given observer status in October to the Francophonie organization, the French equivalent to Britain’s Commonwealth.
Under President Emmanuel Macron, France is attempting to broaden its influence in Africa to anglophone regions.