Inherited from the Bourbon kings, perfected during the military- and emperor-centred Napoleonic system of power, and never drastically reformed since then, France’s modern and strictly pyramidal formal administrative structure is still capable of smoothly implementing any kind of coordinated action directed from the highest political level under a regulated process, whatever the specific aim or subject may be.
Though limited in its scope, France’s WGA policy for the Sahel is a good example of such a system’s present successes as well as its limitations. The latter especially results from the lack of policymaking dialogue between the executive and parliament as well as from the difficulty of properly dealing with the predominantly informal nature of African politics, economies and societies.
According to statements by members of the ‘special envoy’ task force for the Sahel interviewed during the preliminary survey for this report, the actual efficiency and framing of the Sahel WGA policy reflected lessons learned from previous French WGA experiments in the Balkans (Kosovo) and Afghanistan during the two last decades. The approach, they argued, was more flexible and less bureaucratic than before in its integrated inter-departmental structures. For example, each ministerial department and the AFD were given free rein to define their own actions and needs within the broader framework of the two coordinated task forces.
To an external observer of the French system as it is operating in mid-2019, enablers of a WGA policy are to be found in two places. First, they are at the very top level of the French political system, where the presidency’s influence has been strengthening under Emmanuel Macron’s bold, dedicated and personalised leadership. Second, in terms of a more inclusive top-to-bottom approach, they are found among the military, whose members are generally keen to be supported by civilian development programmes in efforts to bring lasting stability to the Sahel region. On the AFC side, as a unit that has specialised on conflicts and crises since 2008, the CCC is also a structural enabler for WGA and one that is becoming increasingly important for providing topical support to operational programmes and projects.
On the other hand, disablers of a WGA are to be almost randomly located all along the cross-departmental spectrum. For example, there are many civil servants working in silos and in a very traditionally bureaucratic way who sometimes – and particularly during recent years – have been reluctant to be forced to ‘mingle’ with military affairs.
According to my own experience, another obstacle to implementing a WGA can be found among development practitioners at the lower and middle levels. A rather common feeling among them, either in the field or at the headquarters, is that they already have to take into account too many diligence processes when implementing ODA projects, and that they would definitely be overburdened if new WGA-related responsibilities would be added to their existing workload.
A deeper, though less visible problem is a vague but widespread desire to return to silos, so to speak – that is, to abandon coordinated strategies and go back to the traditional system of having independent ministerial departments and agencies. Indeed, this desire for less uniformity can be detected in some slight differences in vocabulary used in various strategic documents. For example, it is ‘strategy report’ for 2018 (DGM/MEAE 2018), the MEAE’s Directorate-general for Global Affairs preferred to use the political term ‘fragilité’ (fragility). On the other hand, in its strategy-framing document for the same year (AFD 2018), the AFD opted for the more economic term ‘vulnerabilité’ (vulnerability).
An additional and quite structural obstacle to fully operationalising a WGA in France is the lack of parliamentary and/or civil society involvement in actually conceptualising and implementing such an approach. This has been particularly emphasised by an official working paper commissioned by the prime minister and submitted in August 2018 by Hervé Berville, a young development practitioner of African origin who is a member of parliament from President Macron’s party (Berville 2018). Well covered by the media, military operations in the Sahel have become an object of both national pride and suspicion as well as a common topic of heated public discussion in France. However, as Berville pointed out, ODA does not enjoy widespread popular support, it is still very technical and uncoordinated, and it is not sufficiently monitored or evaluated. Furthermore, a distinctive feature of the critiques and recommendations in Berville’s report focus on European rather than strictly French solutions. For example, in the third of his 36 ‘propositions’, Berville calls for the establishment of a new European commissioner in charge of the “Europe-Africa partnership”. The Berville Report was briefly mentioned and praised by President Macron in the speech he delivered to French ambassadors at the Elysée Palace on 27 August 2018. A new law on development assistance is on the (very packed) 2019 agenda of the parliament, and there is growing pressure to review immigration and ODA policies on both the national and EU levels. However, it is unlikely that any new WGA structures will emerge in France in the near future.