Top French military delegation visits South Africa


France’s ambassador to South Africa, H.E. Christophe Farnaud, hosted a reception at his Pretoria residence in honour of a visit to South Africa by a high-ranking French military delegation led by Commander, French Forces in the Southern Indian Ocean, Brigadier General Franck Reignier.

Ambassador Farnaud, in his address to the guests, which included members of the South African defence industry, Armscor and senior military personnel, as well as military attaches from countries including Brazil and Sweden, pointed to the long association between South Africa and France, referring to WWI, the events of Delville Wood and the sinking of the SS Mendi as “both tragic and heroic”.

He said France and South Africa had a “strategic partnership” across a range of activities, which included the defence sector, as well as co-operation in science and technical fields.

He added France and South Africa had worked together on peacekeeping missions and in joint training exercises.

Touching on the increased globalisation, he said this meant more trade, faster exchange, new maritime routes but also new global threats and global risks which called for new approaches. He said in the new conditions, France was seeking global partners to help keep stability worldwide. He said South Africa was “on top of the list of countries with which we want to work” on the African continent. He confirmed the biannual Exercise Oxide would take place this year, but stressed it was only one example of co-operation between the two countries.

The commander of French forces in the Southern Indian Ocean, General Franck Reignier, is no stranger to Africa. A French Marine trained as a paratrooper, he has taken part in numerous operations in Africa and has been Defence Attaché in Madagascar as well as being Chief of Staff of the UN operation in DRC, MONUSCO.

In his address, he briefly described the French Southern Indian Ocean Territories, as well as La Reunion Island, east of Madagascar. The other territories are small islands near Madagascar and within the Arctic Circle.

He said France and South Africa needed to co-ordinate responses to ongoing threats including an upsurge in Somali piracy, with some seven attacks in the last two months, an increase in drug trafficking and illegal fishing. He added the terrorist threat was also increasing.

General Reignier said France was patrolling the Mozambique Channel along with South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique. With South Africa having the most sophisticated and powerful armed forces in the region, it was essential for France and South Africa to work together.

Referring to the upcoming Exercise Oxide (early December 2017), he stressed the need for “jointness”, a term which is becoming more widely used. This was the joint operation of Army, Air Force, Special Forces, Military Health Services and Navy. Oxide was planned as just such an operation using both French and South African troops, operating in and around Reunion. This is the first time the exercise will be held on Reunion, previous ones have been held closer to South Africa.

The exercise would help interoperability between the two military forces and working together would assist both governments to curb illegal activities and reduce threats, as well as joint Search and Rescue operations.

The general added excellent meetings were held with South African service chiefs and the French delegation would also head to the Joint Operations Division.

General Reignier said France tries to assist smaller navies in the region, such as those of Mauritius, Seychelles and Mozambique. He said of the Mozambique Channel, that while it would become a major sea trading route, it would also attract piracy and crime and to secure the route, countries in the region would have to help each other.

It is clear that illegal activities including piracy, drug trading and illegal fishing could be expected to increase in the Indian Ocean and had recently done so.

The general told defenceWeb there was a new piracy hub in Somalia and there had been seven incidents in Horn of Africa region in the last two months. He added that Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 had seized 500 kgs of heroin in the last month. He explained the new drug route started with Iranian vessels and Zanzibar was a key distribution point but some ports in Mozambique were also new centres for drug trading.

He added drugs from Africa made their way to Seychelles, where around 10% of the population was using drugs, creating “quite a problem”.

Illegal fishing and overfishing of Indian Ocean resources was a major problem, notably in tuna stocks, but Reignier said illegal fishing in the French Antarctic was “contained”. Many poachers (including in South Africa’s Prince Edward Island and Marion Island) were from Asia, similar to rhino and elephant poaching rings.

The commander ended on a positive note, saying while he would like to see more co-operation between other French and South African services, naval co-operation was the keystone of the two countries’ relationship in keeping the seas safe.