What does it take to belong to a region and exert power over it? The scholarship on regional powers has elaborated sophisticated indicators to establish nuances of power, but the depiction of the region has remained vague. Most approaches are characterised by a narrow territorial interpretation that does not properly take into account power wielded by geographically distant actors. Using the case of France in Central Africa this article argues that a distant state can a) hold a dominant share of military, economic and soft power, b) use this power for hegemonic behaviour and c) be recognised as a leader in the region by both internal and external actors. The main specificity of distant actors as regional powers is the greater necessity for a legitimising narrative. France tackles this hurdle with the help of regional organisations that reproduce imperial structures. By holding the informal status of a quasi-member in regional governance structures, France participates in region-building processes from the inside rather than the outside.