By Najete Michell and Paul Taylor
Macron’s Montpellier summit
Sixty years after the French colonies got their formal independence, the economic, military and political ties which kept the ex-colonies under French domination remains.
At last month’s Montpellier summit (which was not a summit as only civil society was invited but not the heads of state), President Macron tried to rebuild trust with Africa and give a better image of France.
His ‘new deal’, as he called it, is part of the Wall Street Consensus, a neoliberal approach that includes the privatisation of public services through PPP.
Africans speak more than ever about getting back their political sovereignty to develop economically.
The imperialist powers will never allow that, thirsty as they are, to plunder Africa’s natural resources for the least possible price and impose restructuring plans for paying back their ‘debts’.
France has another growing challenge – China’s win-win strategy, which contributes more to African economic development.
With its belligerent cold war framework, Washington also feels threatened by China’s presence in Africa, which has become the world’s largest foreign direct investor on the continent.
Unsurprisingly, the recent coup in Guinea appears to be against the authoritarian president, Alfa Conde and directed against China.
Africom (the US command) played a crucial rôle in it. A prime motivation is Guinea’s position as one of the largest producers of bauxite in the world.
As part of the Belt and Road initiative, China planned a railway line between Guinea and Mali.
Chart 1. Source: The EIU Africa team November 2020
France has yet not turned the page of colonisation. Firstly it is one of the few countries that still has a dozen colonies it directly administers. Most are islands in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
French claims of the decolonisation of sub-Saharan Africa are also far from reality.
France has created a system named by activists, La Françafrique. It allows France to maintain its exploitation and control over its ex-colonies economically, politically and militarily.
Consequently, most of France ex-colonies have not developed economically: poverty is widespread, and the rights to self-determination are limited.
In the last decade, there has been a growing consciousness of this unacceptable situation amongst Africans, especially young people.
Moreover, French firms and the French state confront other imperialist powers such as the USA threatening French domination.
Consequently, France has been desperately trying to regain its grip in Africa to overcome its loss of influence and aura. France is also motivated to maintain its image as one of the Great Powers in the world.
President Macron tried to seduce the African youth at the recent Afrique-France summit, promoting France and Africa’s so-called ‘love’ relationship.
But Macron is unable to hide the reality of neo-colonialism.
It leads to thousands of youth migrating to other African countries or Europe at the price of their lives in the Mediterranean Sea or facing jail, torture, or slavery in Libya on their way to Europe.
When they finally reach France, people face a new life of persecution and exploitation as undocumented workers.
The rhetoric and the propaganda of the ‘country of human rights’ can’t hide the reality of domination which rests on three pillars: the Franc CFA, the neo-colonialist and military presence, and French interventions.
THE CFA, a colonial currency
The CFA franc is the local currency of the franc zone, which includes 14 African states. It is a direct remnant from the colonial past.
At its first appearance, in 1945, the acronym used to mean franc of the French Colonies in Africa. However, now C and the F refer either to financial cooperation (the 6 States from Central Africa) or to financial community (the eight states from West Africa).
France issues the currency, and it has a fixed exchange rate. Previously it was against the French franc, but now versus the euro.
Macron has announced a change; it will now be called the Eco. However, most Africans see no difference with this currency which prevents them from deciding their monetary policy and leaves France controlling their economic development and destiny.
Chart 2. Source: BBC 2019
After 1945 the zone franc organised protected trade with France: the colonies produced raw materials exclusively to France. In exchange, France sold them consumer and capital goods free of customs tariffs. This unequal exchange continues with Françafrique.
Africa holds 30% of all mineral reserves. However, thanks to the CFA zone protection, French firms such as Bouygues, Areva, Total and Bolloré have priority access to exploit those minerals.
When France boasts that it is self-reliant on its energy, primarily nuclear power, it is a pure colonial statement as the uranium comes from Niger, which is not part of France. The era of the French empire still echoes in such arrogance.
But in fact, the mechanisms of Françafrique do not even allow the development of those mines. Thus, for example, with Areva in the Central Africa Republic, corruption and involvement in CAR politics were paramount. Also, as with the mines in Namibia and South Africa, they were closed without a single gramme of uranium extracted.
Françafrique and the French state
Françafrique is entangled with a whole political system embedded in France’s political institutions.
The current French constitution from the founding of the 5th Republic in 1958 established a presidential regime, initially with De Gaulle at its pinnacle.
It gave great executive power to the president and much less to parliament.
In particular, under the 1958 constitution, the president is head of the army and can decide any military intervention without asking parliament. If there is a debate in parliament, it is in general after a presidential decision.
In practice, it has meant a closed circle of ministers, and the president decides France’s military policy in Africa.
Plundering these economies requires political stability. So France has its ‘friends’, as it calls them, in Africa who are often dictators supported by France. Macron’s support of the coup in Chad is a recent example.
France has no wish to support democratic processes in Africa, even less socialist ones, as with Thomas Sankara under the socialist Mitterand presidency in the 1980s, as they could threaten the status quo, which so much suits her interests.
Françafrique is managed at the highest level of government by the president as a state secret.
For example, French intelligence worked with Elf Aquitaine (later became Total) in Gabon in the ’60s.
This system also involves corruption amongst the French elites, leading to many scandals in French politics.
Colonialism and neo-colonialism in Africa have played a considerable rôle in the rotting of the French state.
The French military in Africa
A French military presence has existed in terms of troops and military bases in ten countries and French military interventions or ‘aid’ to secure the interests of French imperialism.
Mali is a case in point. On behalf of fighting terrorism and ‘helping’ Mali, Operation Barkhane, mainly set up by France, has aroused great controversy.
Despite the official French reports claiming they are making progress, the truth is now emerging that Operation Barkhane in the five million square km of the Sahara and Sahel has been a complete failure.
The rise of ISIS type forces in Mali is a direct consequence of the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya by French, British and US imperialism.
French intervention into Mali is not for benign reasons; it is for purely imperialist ones.
In Cameroon, suspected members of Boko Haram were tortured and endured incommunicado detention. Amnesty International in 2017 directly observed the presence of French personnel during one of their visits at the military base of Salak in the period where torture was routine.
The French state still hides many things. As a result, the French population has yet a lot to learn about the rôle its ruling class played in the Rwanda genocide, the death of Thomas Sankara, and many other coups in Africa.
However, there are grounds for optimism. Increasing numbers of youth in several countries, including Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, have become more and more openly vocal and active against the French military presence and are demanding French troops out.
In Chad, protesters burned French flags following the support of Macron for the recent coup.
And in Mali, the youth are very vocal against France, as in Ivory Coast and Senegal when a large protest movement took place in March this year in which firms were attacked or looted as symbols of French imperialism.
An independent Africa in a multipolar world
It is time that France turned the final page of its policies of colonialism and neo-colonialism
With the defeat of the West in Afghanistan, it is more difficult for French imperialism to pretend that its interference and plundering in Africa is for humanitarian reasons.
But Macron, with all of his racist paternalism, is paying lip service to a partnership of equals. He is pretending to build a new partnership with French colonies when he is renovating a 21st-century neo-colonialism.
Fortunately, more and more Africans reject Macron’s plans. Instead, they are spreading pan-Africanist ideas, aspiring to take control of their own countries, at last. They want to build a continent for its people and participate on an equal footing in a multipolar world.