AFRICA: Why France faces so much anger in West Africa – “Neo-colonial arrogance” – BBC News

By Paul Melly – Africa analyst – Published

It all started so positively. Where have things gone wrong? Why does France now appear so unpopular in Africa?

French President Emmanuel Macron has increased aid to the continent, begun the return of cultural artefacts stolen during the colonial wars and reached out beyond the usual inter-government ties to engage younger generations and civil society.

He has kept French troops in the Sahel to fight the jihadist militants that kill so many local civilians, police and soldiers and supported the regional bloc Ecowas as it tries to defend electoral politics against military takeovers.

Yet his country is now the target of embittered African complaints and criticism on a scale that is probably unprecedented.     

Emmanuel Macron

Last month, a convoy of French troops heading north to support the fight against Islamist militants was repeatedly blockaded by protesters as it crossed Burkina Faso and Niger.

In September Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Maïga was met with a wave of sympathetic comment when he used a speech at the UN to accuse France of “abandoning his country in mid-flight”, after Mr Macron began to scale back the deployment of troops in the country.

Among progressive West African commentators and urban youth, it is now commonplace to hear calls for the abolition of the CFA franc – the regional currency used by many francophone countries and which is pegged to the euro under a French government guarantee. Its critics say this enables France to control the economies of those countries which use it, while France says it guarantees economic stability.

Neo-colonial arrogance

What explains this paradox? How is it that a president more concerned for Africa than most recent predecessors, and more aware too of how the continent is changing, encounters a level of French unpopularity not felt for decades?

Certainly, Mr Macron’s self-confident – critics would say arrogant – personal style is a factor.

Despite reaching out to Africa, President Macron has faced a backlash

He has made his share of diplomatic blunders.

After 13 French troops died in a helicopter crash in Mali in November 2019 he demanded that West African leaders fly to France for an emergency summit, an outburst perceived as neo-colonial arrogance, particularly as Mali and Niger had suffered far heavier recent military losses.

President Macron was forced into a rapid course-correction, flying to Niamey, Niger’s capital, to pay his respects to the Nigérien military dead and postponing the summit until January 2020.

But the causes of France’s current discomfort also extend back to decades before Mr Macron’s election in 2017.

“You can cite historical controversies linked to colonisation. Many of us are the children of parents who knew the colonial period and its humiliations,” explains Ivorian political analyst Sylvain Nguessan.

During the early post-independence decades, France maintained a dense web of personal connections with African leaders and elites – dubbed “françafrique” – which too often slid into a mutual protection of vested interests, with little regard for human rights or transparency.

Among outside powers, Paris was far from alone in colluding with dictatorial allies, but its relationships were particularly close and unquestioning.

Charisma and change

The most damning failure came in Rwanda in 1994, when France failed to act even as its ally, the regime of then-President Juvenal Habyarimana, began to prepare genocide.

The CFA is a colonial-era currency that is still used in several former French colonies in Africa

From the mid-1990s onwards several governments worked to reform France’s engagement with Africa and give more priority to development and democratic governance.

But momentum later faltered.

Nicolas Sarkozy began his tenure as president in 2007 by remarking, with a spectacular lack of tact, that “the African man has not sufficiently entered into history”. He favoured old allies such as the Bongo family, who have governed Gabon since 1967.

When François Hollande became president in 2012 he had no choice but to focus on security issues in the Sahel – a swathe of land south of the Sahara desert. He never really had the political strength to revive reform efforts.

But with Mr Macron’s accession to office, France had a president fully aware of the need for change – and with the political clout and personal enthusiasm to attack the task.

In 2017 he told students in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, that France would back a reform of the CFA franc if African governments wanted this. He also invited civil society, youth and cultural figures to this year’s France-Africa summit in Montpellier, rather than the usual flock of presidents.

Sahel – a festering wound

Yet his readiness to speak plainly, challenge old structures and question comfortable assumptions has not always played well, even among those who are clamouring for change.

Despite France’s counter-terrorism operation, militants are still a major problem in the vast Sahel region of West Africa

Moreover, the situation in the Sahel has deteriorated into a festering wound.

The French military presence fuels an increasingly widespread sense of grievance across West Africa.

Despite a massive and sustained military effort – with more than 5,000 troops deployed and more than 50 killed – France has not been able to decisively overcome the threat from jihadists, whose attacks on local communities and security forces continue.

The reasons are complex, both military and social, environmental and economic.

Yet a significant proportion of local public opinion feels that France, as a high-tech Western military power, should have been able to “sort” the problem and should now get out of the way if it cannot do so.

Those feelings seem to have motivated the protesters who blockaded the French army convoy.

And this comes after earlier causes of resentments, as Mr Nguessan points out: “The speeches of Sarkozy in Dakar, Macron in Ouagadougou; the war in Ivory Coast; the discouraging results of the campaign against terrorism.

“Questions related to the currency, debt, support for local dictators and ill-chosen words.”

But underlying social and communal factors also shape the attitudes of some.

One senior Sahel military officer says he sees the French as allies of Tuareg former separatist rebels in northern Mali – an allegation fiercely and credibly denied in Paris.

Similar complexities surround France’s support for West Africa regional body Ecowas – which is currently trying to pressure coup leaders in Mali and Guinea to rapidly return their countries to civilian constitutional rule.

A growing number of young people regard the regional bloc as an incumbent presidents’ club, too slow to criticise civilian rulers who manipulate democratic rules and unwilling to acknowledge the strength of popular support for military leaders promising reform.

So in backing Ecowas as the legitimate African crisis management institution, France ends up being perceived as a prop for the old guard establishment.

Paul Melly is a consulting fellow with the Africa Programme at the think-tank Chatham House in London.

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Comments

  • guyaneseonline  On 06/18/2022 at 6:31 am

    The above article does not give the underlying economic reason of why France is still embroiled as a colonial power in Africa- all economic – sucking the resources and finances of these countries on a yearly basis.

    French colonial tax still enforce for Africa
    After the French destroyed Guinea who had sought independence, the alternative was to pay a tax. No African country could estimate the effect this had on 14
    World Bulletin/News Desk

    Which countries pay colonial tax to France?
    This arrangement is why critics say that the 14 countries are paying a colonial tax. The member countries include Gabon, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Congo-Brazzaville, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and Guinea-Bissau.Jul 7, 2020

    When Guinea demanded independence from French colonial rule in 1958, the French unleashed their fury with more than 3,000 leaving the country taking their enteire property. In addition, they destroyed anything that couldn’t be taken – destroying schools, nurseries, public administration buildings, cars, books, medicine, research institute instruments, tractors were crushed and sabotaged, animals killed and food in warehouses were burned or poisoned. In effect they were sending a message to all other colonies that the consqueences for jrejecting France would be high.

    Colonialism as an enduring stain in Africa’s history, and economic oppression continue to exist. An article by Mawuna Remarque Koutonin, peace activist and editor of SiliconAfrica.com addressed this practice.

    The article called attention to an ongoing practice by which former African countries are forced to pay a colonial tax to France – even today. In fact, France continues to thrive on the practice, which extracts approximately 500 billion dollars from African countries each year.

    As Koutonin notes, this outrageous tax deprives African economies of much needed funds, exacerbates debt, and strips their authority over their own natural reserves. But the detriments are more than just economic, as the ills of colonialism manifest in social ways that are equally devastating to the dignity and identity of the African people:

    Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of the Republic of Togo, instead of signing the colonisation continuation pact with De Gaulle, instead agreed to pay an annual debt to France for the so called benefits of French colonisation. This prevented the French not destroying the country before they left however the amount estimated by France was so big that the reimbursement of the so called “colonial debt” was close to 40% of the country budget in 1963. Olympio’s dream was to build an independent and self-sufficient and self-reliant country but the French had him killed by a seargeant who was given a $612 bounty by the French embassy.

    History has shown that despite years of African fighting to liberate themselves, France repeatedly used many exForeign legionnaires to carry out coups against elected presidents. This included Jean-Bedel Bokassa who assassinated David Dacko, the first President of the Central African Republic. In the last 50 years, a total of 67 coups has occurred in 26 African countries, of which 16 are ex-French colonies. This indicates that France is desperate to hold on to whatever land it has in Africa.

    In March 2008, former French President Jacques Chirac said:
    “Without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power” and that Chirac’s predecessor François Mitterand already prophesied in 1957 that: “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century”.

    Colonial Tax in Billions

    As of January 2014, 14 african countries are obliged by France, through a colonial pact, to put 85% of their foreign reserve into France central bank under French minister of Finance control.They are effectively putting in 500 Billion dollars every year to the French treasury. African leaders who refuse are killed or victim of coup. Those who obey are supported and rewarded by France with lavish lifestyle while their people endure extreme poverty, and desperation.

    There are a number of components of the colonisation pact that has been in effect since the 1950’s. The main points being that the African countries should deposit their national monetary reserves in the France Central Bank. France has been holding the national reserves of fourteen African countries since 1961: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

    Despite the two main African banks having African names, they have no monetary policies of their own. In fact France allows them to access only 15% of the money in any given year. If there is need for any more, they need to borrow the extra money from their own 65% from the French Treasury at commercial rates.

    The pact also included claused that Africa had an obligation to make French the official language of the country and the language for education and an obligation to use France colonial money FCFA (the Nordic countries tried unsuccessfully to get rid of this system when they discovered this).Also, they were obliged to send France an annual balance and reserve report. If they refused to send it, they would not be entitled to any money .

    Obligation to ally with France in situation of war or global crisis

    Over one million Africans soldiers fought for the defeat of nazism and fascism during the second world war. With their contribution ignored or minimised, the French know that Africans could be useful for fighting, which in effect shows that France is psychopathic when it comes to Africa.

    The only question that remains unanswered however is when people first reaction when they learn about the French colonial tax is often a question: “Until when?”

    Christof Lehmann wrote for nsnbc.me in 2012, “France is indebting and enslaving Africans by means of Africa’s own wealth; for example: 12.0000 billion invested at three percent creates 360 billion in interests which France grants as credits to Africa at an interest rate of five to six percent or more. The allegory of ‘Bleeding Africa and Feeding France’ is no exaggeration, not alarmist, and not revolutionary.”

  • Emily  On 06/18/2022 at 3:32 pm

    The locals in French Guiana tell me that there are no jobs for them, because many of the policing, border patrol and government jobs are given to the White French living like royals with middle class Parisian salaries.

    Meanwhile, many of the locals in French Guiana live poor and destitute despite the country technically being a state of France and a EU Member.

    The EU is busy giving free money to anti-EU countries like Hungary than to French Guiana.

    • Dennis Albert  On 06/24/2022 at 8:02 am

      I’ve been to the capital city Cayenne a few times. The cost of living there is insane. Food prices are five times that in GT. Euros don’t buy as much compared to the third world, because everything is based on the mainland France pricing.

      These racist French voters who voted for LePen do not want the colonized to migrate to their mainland, yet they continue to exploit the third world colonies. Hypocrites!

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