Why Europe Intervenes in Africa: Security, Prestige and the Legacy of Colonialism

Why Europe Intervenes in Africa: Security, Prestige and the Legacy of Colonialism 
By Catherine Gegout
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 400pp.

Reviewed by: Paul Chiudza Banda, Ph.D. Candidate in History, West Virginia University

Catherine Gegout highlights the various forms of European intervention in African affairs since the end of the Cold War. It serves as an important contribution towards one’s understanding of some of Africa’s conflict zones, and how the international community has helped to end some of the conflicts, both inter and intra-state. The major international players covered in this book are France, the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU).

There are seven chapters in the book, where the first one is the introduction, while the last one is both the conclusion and an epilogue, providing a prediction of what will be the place of Africa in international relations as the 21st century progresses. Gegout answers three key questions surrounding European intervention in Africa, namely: (a) why do they intervene in African conflicts; (b) do they harbor some form of empathy or responsibility towards the peoples of Africa; and (c) or do they harbor their own vested interests that drive them to intervene? (pp.1-2).

Throughout the book’s five middle chapters (chapters two to six), the author takes the reader through both theoretical and practical motivations for European military intervention in African conflicts. The theoretical aspect, revolves around such theories as Constructivism, Post-colonialism, Euro-centrism, Humanitarianism, and Realism. The various cases of European military intervention have occurred with or without the consent of African states. They include the creation of military bases; covert operations; funding and organizing military training; and selling or provision of arms (pp.29-30).

In chapter two, the author revisits the argument previously raised by Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972), which traces European intervention in Africa right from the 16th century. The contacts in question led to the slave trade, colonization, decolonization, and the Cold War that followed. The Europeans were mainly driven by economic motives to venture into the African interior (pp.63-68).  During the era of the Cold War, it had been the need to block the spread of Communism (pp.71-73).

In chapter three, the author digresses by conducting a comparative analysis of why other ‘non-European actors’ (the UN, USA, and China) intervene in Africa. Their motives range from humanitarian, economic and security needs. The US and China have military bases in African states. Individual African states, regional African blocs (such as ECOWAS and SADC), and the African Union (AU), have intervened in conflict zones (pp.89-105).

Gegout argues that comparatively, it has been France that has been more prominent. French leaders have since independence intervened in their former African colonies, mainly to protect French security and economic interests. It has also assisted France to retain a prestigious position on the global stage, by retaining a ‘zone of influence’ in Africa (pp.135-137).  Apart from controlling the economies of the former colonies, France has been active in operating military bases, training African troops, and placing military advisors in African armies. French troops have also intervened in numerous African conflicts, such as Gabon (1991); Algeria (1991-2002); Burkina Faso (2014, 2016), among others (pp.146-153). 

On the other hand, the UK and the EU are said to have very little or limited economic interests in Africa, hence their limited military activity (chapters five and six). Where the UK has intervened, it has often done so as a former colonial power and for security purposes, especially in the fight against terrorism (pp.209-210). The UK has one military base in Africa, located in Kenya (p.216). The EU’s intervention is mainly driven by ‘humanitarian’ considerations, seeking to preserve peace and prevent conflicts from escalating into genocides. The EU often works alongside the AU and other European member states, especially France and Britain (pp.264-266).
 

In the end, Gegout argues that there is no immediate end in sight to European intervention in African conflicts. They will still be motivated by security needs, and the need to retain a prestigious position in global affairs. However, in the long run, there will be more collaborations between the various European states working alongside such bodies as the EU, NATO, and the UN, rather than a European state acting unilaterally. African actors will also have to take more prominent roles in resolving inter and intra-state conflicts (pp.301-304).

The book has many strengths, notably the comparative approach, which the author has used to discuss the motives behind the military intervention of the various European and non-European actors. The theoretical analysis, which cuts across all the main chapters, also makes this book to be a commendable academic contribution. On the other hand, the book is seemingly ‘elitist’. It only concentrates on the input or decisions of the major players on the international stage, especially the presidents and prime ministers, leaving out the reactions of ordinary citizens in the states affected, both in Europe and Africa. 

Such shortfalls aside, I would recommend this book to those interested in such fields as International Relations, Military History, and the Political and Economic dynamics of post-Cold War Africa. They will find this book captivating.

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