The ‘anglosaxon conspiracy’: French perceptions of the Great Lakes crisis
Franco–American rivalry is not a new phenomenon. Although France helped the United States to gain its independence over two centuries ago, since the early 1950s the Americans have often considered the French as having ‘anti-American feelings’. On the other side, though America fought on France's side in two world wars, many French politicians have, over the last fifty years, found it difficult to hide a deep resentment vis-à-vis the United States. After the collapse of the bipolar system, the list of disagreements between Washington and Paris grew, and, by early 1997, bilateral relations had probably reached an all-time low. With regard to NATO's controversial Southern Command, France clashed with the United States in Brussels; then, Paris strongly reacted to the American veto on Boutros Boutros-Ghali's re-election to the position of the secretary-general of the UN; and finally, French foreign policy initiatives in the Middle East provoked negative reactions from Washington.
The Great Lakes crisis occupies a very important position in the list of recent Franco–American disagreements. The main hypothesis of this article is that Franco–American antagonism with regard to the Great Lakes region was a perception far more of the French government than of the United States administration. However, French views of and tactics during the Central African crisis led to American reactions that reinforced French beliefs and contributed to Franco–American tensions, not only in relation to the Great Lakes region but also in relation to other geopolitical areas. Interestingly, some African governments regarded Franco–American rivalry positively, since it seemed to offer them an opportunity for regaining part of the international leverage and bargaining power that they had lost with the end of the Cold War.
The 1994–7 developments in Rwanda and Zaïre were considered by many French politicians, diplomats and many journalists as evidence of an ‘anglosaxon conspiracy’, part of a plot to develop an arc of influence from Ethiopia and Eritrea via Uganda, Rwanda and Zaïre to Congo and Cameroon. For them, the ‘anglosaxons’ (a term directed not at Britain, la perfide Albion, but at the United States) had a hidden agenda ‘to oust France from Africa’. This article attempts to provide an analytical framework for the explanation of French perceptions of the United States's role in the Great Lakes crisis.
1 A shorter version of this paper was presented in the panel on Humanitarian Intervention at the International Conference ‘Africa and globalisation: towards the millennium’ at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston (UK). Three anonymous referees from JMAS made helpful comments on an earlier draft, which are gratefully acknowledged.