The end of Françafrique?
    Opinion by Foreign Policy

    WORLD  28 February 2024 - 17:42

    The American magazine Foreign Policy has published an article by Howard French on French colonial policy on the African continent stating that festering resentment of French neocolonialism is motivating a backlash against Paris across West Africa. Caliber.Az reprints the piece.

    In August 1958, Charles de Gaulle, who had just returned to power in France, set off on a tour of his country’s sub-Saharan African colonies. His purpose was to present them with a plan to join France in a new kind of “community.” Paris would continue to control what it called “state services,” which included defence, monetary matters, customs, as well as media and communications. A new quasi-limited autonomy, meanwhile, would more or less allow African countries to manage their domestic affairs and to carry the costs, once largely borne, by France of doing so.
     
    De Gaulle presented the novel scheme under a veneer of magnanimity. Via a planned referendum, its African possessions would be given the liberty to accept or reject his community. This offer did not come without a warning though. There would be no debate, only an up or down vote, and any colony that rejected the proposition would face secession from France “with all its consequences.”
     
    It was not long before the world learned what this meant in practice. When de Gaulle visited Guinea the following month, that colony’s leader, Ahmed Sékou Touré, spoke defiantly to a crowd as the French statesman looked on. “We do not and never shall renounce our legitimate right to independence,” he said. This angered De Gaulle, who cancelled a planned dinner with Touré that night and disinvited him to fly together on his presidential plane to nearby Senegal the next day. Yet these were but the merest hints of the consequences to come.
     
    After de Gaulle had returned home to Paris, he ordered the immediate withdrawal of the thousands of French civil servants who had made the colony’s bureaucracy run and staffed its clinics and schools. And before they flew home, many of the French workers engaged in an orgy of petty destructiveness, smashing furniture, trashing official records, breaking equipment, and even shattering lightbulbs.
     
    What happened then back in Guinea is one of the most famous episodes in an inglorious history of French colonial rule and domination over large parts of West and Central Africa, but it is only a single chapter in a very long story. Guinea is a better place than most to begin a discussion of this topic because in the 1880s and 1890s, the era of rapid French imperial expansion in the region, it was the site of a fierce campaign by Paris to subdue local political rulers, seize control over gold and other natural resources, and extend France’s authority over new territories.
     
     
    The most famous of these leaders was a man named Samory Touré, who ruled over a polity called the Wassoulou Empire. Its core was in the Guinea highlands, and to France’s great frustration, it sometimes fielded armies numbering as many as 35,000 soldiers. When his empire was finally subdued just before the close of the century, Touré was exiled to an island in Gabon, a faraway equatorial colony (now country), where he died.
     
    France is of course not the only European country to have ruled over Africans, but its history is unique for its persistence, its geographic spread, and its adaptability. A struggle for independence in Algeria, then a large North African French settler colony, brought down France’s Fourth Republic and threatened a civil war in the heart of Europe in 1958, the same year as de Gaulle’s sub-Saharan tour. That is because of the fantastical claim by the rebellious French general, Raoul Salan, that Algeria was actually a physical part, or geographical extension of France. “The Mediterranean traverses France the way the Seine traverses Paris,” Salan claimed.
     
    In the wake of events in Guinea and Algeria, when other Black African figures began to push for more autonomy than de Gaulle had envisioned, or worse, for outright independence, bad things tended to happen to them. A little-remembered anti-colonialist figure from Cameroon named Félix-Roland Moumié, for example, was assassinated by French agents whose actions anticipated the dark methods of Vladimir Putin. They poisoned him with radioactive thallium in Geneva in 1960.
     
    More than 60 years later, there is a remarkable uprising against French influence underway in the Sahel, one of the African regions where French domination has been most thorough over the decades. One after another, the leaders of three states in this semi-arid region—Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali—have spoken out against French sway in West Africa and moved to reduce or eliminate the presence of French soldiers, corporations, and diplomats in their countries. In doing so, they have blamed Paris for a host of problems, ranging from a long-running but ineffective and often disruptive French-led campaign to contain the spread of Islamic insurgencies in the Sahel, to interference in their domestic politics, to profiteering from starkly unequal economic ties.
     
    In stiff rebuffs of France, these three landlocked countries, which rank among the poorest in the world, have sometimes welcomed a larger role for Russia, both in helping bolster their internal security and in the extraction of mineral wealth like the gold and uranium in their soils. And with Russia (as with France for so long) these two things often go together.
     
    They have also hinted at ending cooperation with France on controlling the northward flow of African migration across the Sahara toward Europe. And they have been discussing exiting a long-standing monetary union and currency, the CFA franc, which was created by France prior to independence mostly as a way of sustaining French exports in the region. African critics of the CFA franc have long said that it perpetuates French domination, in part through its historic requirement that member countries of the union deposit their foreign reserves with the French treasury. The three states are even discussing establishing a new Sahelian currency to replace the CFA.

    Caliber.Az

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