Yves here. I confess to having failed to post an important piece by Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, How NOT to Win Friends and Influence People, on how the Biden administration efforts to garner support in Africa were cringe-makingly colonialist. Today’s offering turns to France and its still sorry dealings with Africa.
Macron currently visiting Algeria, he approaches crowds thinking they’re greeting him, Algerian police know better as the chants consist of “f*ck you” and they quickly scrambled him into a car..
— Zaid Hamid (@ZaidZamanHamid) August 29, 2022
And even more priceless, when Macron realized what happened, he tried blaming Turkey and Russia for inflaming Algerian opinion against France.
🇹🇷 🇫🇷 The Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the French president
According to Sabah newspaper During a three-day visit to Algeria, Emmanuel Macron accused the authorities of Turkey, Russia and China of spreading anti-French propaganda in Africa.
— AZ 🛰🌏🌍🌎 (@AZmilitary1) August 27, 2022
Emmanuel Macron warned African and Algerian youths against “networks” presenting France as an “enemy”, during a visit to Algeria.
Turkey has denounced the French President’s statement, adding that he has difficulties confronting “his colonial past”https://t.co/KQd3sc5LqM
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) August 28, 2022
It is not #Turkey that is behind anti-French sentiment in #Algeria, but rather the ever-present signs of torture and French brutality on the bodies of living grandparents that remind every Algerian of what #France did, and that #Macron refuses to acknowledge (and defends instead) pic.twitter.com/X3nNmQS9Dv
— Sami Hamdi سامي الهاشمي الحامدي (@SALHACHIMI) August 28, 2022
Now it is true that Turkey is involved in Algeria….in creating jobs….
#Macron went to #Algeria scrambling to stop the accelerating momentum that is seeing Algiers actively de-prioritise ties with #France in favour of closer economic cooperation with #Turkey and everyone else. #Macron went to try rescue remnants of a brutal period he romanticises… pic.twitter.com/vYuy2AaALW
— Sami Hamdi سامي الهاشمي الحامدي (@SALHACHIMI) August 28, 2022
With the update, now to the backstory.
By Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and University of New South Wales (Australia), who held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, who was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. Originally published at Jomo Kwame Sundaram’s website
Most sub-Saharan African French colonies got formal independence in the 1960s. But their economies have progressed little, leaving most people in poverty, and generally worse off than in other post-colonial African economies.
Pre-Second World War colonial monetary arrangements were consolidated into the Colonies Françaises d’Afrique (CFA) franc zone set up on 26 December 1945. Decolonization became inevitable after France’s defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and withdrawal from Algeria less than a decade later.
France insisted decolonization must involve ‘interdependence’ – presumably asymmetric, instead of between equals – not true ‘sovereignty’. For colonies to get ‘independence’, France required membership of Communauté Française d’Afrique (still CFA) – created in 1958, replacing Colonies with Communauté.
CFA countries are now in two currency unions. Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo belong to UEMOA, the French acronym for the West African Economic and Monetary Union.
Its counterpart CEMAC is the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa, comprising Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad.
Both UEMOA and CEMAC use the CFA franc (FCFA). Ex-Spanish colony, Equatorial Guinea, joined in 1985, one of two non-French colonies. In 1997, former Portuguese colony, Guinea-Bissau was the last to join.
Such requirements have ensured France’s continued exploitation. Eleven of the 14 former French West and Central African colonies remain least developed countries (LDCs), at the bottom of UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI).
French African Colonies
Guinea was the first to leave the CFA in 1960. Before fellow Guineans, President Sékou Touré told President Charles de Gaulle, “We prefer poverty in freedom to wealth in slavery”.
Guinea soon faced French destabilization efforts. Counterfeit banknotes were printed and circulated for use in Guinea – with predictable consequences. This massive fraud brought down the Guinean economy.
France withdrew more than 4,000 civil servants, judges, teachers, doctors and technicians, telling them to sabotage everything left behind: “un divorce sans pension alimentaire” – a divorce without alimony.
Ex-French espionage documentation service (SDECE) head Maurice Robert later acknowledged, “France launched a series of armed operations using local mercenaries, with the aim of developing a climate of insecurity and, if possible, overthrow Sékou Touré”.
In 1962, French Prime Minister Georges Pompidou warned African colonies considering leaving the franc zone: “Let us allow the experience of Sékou Touré to unfold. Many Africans are beginning to feel that Guinean politics are suicidal and contrary to the interests of the whole of Africa”.
Togo independence leader, President Sylvanus Olympio was assassinated in front of the US embassy on 13 January 1963. This happened a month after he established a central bank, issuing the Togolese franc as legal tender. Of course, Togo remained in the CFA.
Mali left the CFA in 1962, replacing the FCFA with the Malian franc. But a 1968 coup removed its first president, radical independence leader Modibo Keita. Unsurprisingly, Mali later re-joined the CFA in 1984.
The eight UEMOA economies are all oil importers, exporting agricultural commodities, such as cotton and cocoa, besides gold. By contrast, the six CEMAC economies, except the Central African Republic, rely heavily on oil exports.
CFA apologists claim pegging the FCFA to the French franc, and later, the euro, has kept inflation low. But lower inflation has also meant “slower per capita growth and diminished poverty reduction” than in other African countries.
The CFA has “traded decreased inflation for fiscal restraint and limited macroeconomic options”. Unsurprisingly, CFA members’ growth rates have been lower, on average, than in non-CFA countries.
With one of Africa’s highest incomes, petroleum producer Equatorial Guinea is the only CFA country to have ‘graduated’ out of LDC status, in 2017, after only meeting the income ‘graduation’ criterion.
Its oil boom ensured growth averaging 23.4% annually during 2000–08. But growth has fallen sharply since, contracting by -5% yearly during 2013–21! Its 2019 HDI of 0.592 ranked 145 of 189 countries, below the 0.631 mean for middle-ranking countries.
With over 70% of its population poor, and over 40% in ‘extreme poverty’, inequality is extremely high in Equatorial Guinea. The top 1% got over 17% of pre-tax national income in 2021, while the bottom half got 11.5%!
Four of ten 6–12 year old children in Equatorial Guinea were not in school in 2012, many more than in much poorer African countries. Half the children starting primary school did not finish, while less than a quarter went on to middle school.
CFA member Gabon, the fifth largest African oil producer, is an upper middle-income country. With petroleum making up 80% of exports, 45% of GDP, and 60% of fiscal revenue, Gabon is very vulnerable to oil price volatility.
One in three Gabonese lived in poverty, while one in ten were in extreme poverty in 2017. More than half its rural residents were poor, with poverty three times more there than in urban areas.
Côte d’Ivoire, a non-LDC CFA member, enjoyed high growth, peaking at 10.8% in 2013. With lower cocoa prices and Covid-19, growth fell to 2% in 2020. About 46% of Ivorians lived on less than 750 FCFA (about $1.30) daily, with its HDI ranked 162 of 189 in 2019.
CFA’s Neo-Colonial Role
Clearly, the CFA “promotes inertia and underdevelopment among its member states”. Worse, it also limits credit available for fiscal policy initiatives, including promoting industrialization.
Credit-GDP ratios in CFA countries have been low at 10–25% – against over 60% in other Sub-Saharan African countries! Low credit-GDP ratios also suggest poor finance and banking facilities, not effectively funding investments.
By surrendering exchange rate and monetary policy, CFA members have less policy flexibility and space for development initiatives. They also cannot cope well with commodity price and other challenges.
The CFA’s institutional requirements – especially keeping 70% of their foreign exchange with the French Treasury – limit members’ ability to use their forex earnings for development.
More recent fiscal rules limiting government deficits and debt – for UEMOA from 2000 and CEMAC in 2002 – have also constrained policy space, particularly for public investment.
The CFA has also not promoted trade among members. After six decades, trade among CEMAC and UEMOA members averaged 4.7% and 12% of their total commerce respectively. Worse, pegged exchange rates have exacerbated balance of payments volatility.
Unrestricted transfers to France have enabled capital flight. The FCFA’s unlimited euro convertibility is supposed to reduce foreign investment risk in the CFA. However, foreign investment is lower than in other developing countries.
Total net capital outflows from CFA countries during 1970–2010 came to $83.5 billion – 117% of combined GDP! Capital flight from CFA economies was much more than from other African countries during 1970–2015.
Ages ago i ran into a claim that the continual RoC (RotC?) struggle was a result of a proxy war between France and USA.
This is why they had to whack Thomas Sankara in 1987. He was talking like Michael Hudson or Ha-Joon Chang meets Amilcar Cabral and Kwame Nkrumah. He fought official corruption, banned female genital mutilation and forced marriage, promoted gender equality in education and inheritance, initiated massive public health and tree planting programs, and advocated debt cancellation for Third World countries. Can’t have that, any more than with Touré, Olympio, and Keita. You’ll be shocked to know that the guy who plotted his assassination with French backing, Blaise Compaoré, reestablished Burkina Faso’s old relationship with France, took out a $67 million IMF loan in 1991, and imposed structural adjustment on the country. It hasn’t recovered since.
Funny you should mention genital mutilation, as it has been a hot topic for years thanks to Somalian immigrants. Thing is that far too many attribute the practice to Islam, yet as best i can tell it predated Islam massively. Sorry, just needed to vent.
Well, as we see with Burkina Faso, at least some African leaders who supported women’s rights and opposed such barbaric practices were toppled by the wise men in Paris, London, or Washington. Without denying the indigenous roots of many harmful and oppressive practices in Africa and elsewhere, it’s also true that western meddling has often reinforced the worst of those practices while undermining reform efforts. Just consider the abysmal human rights (including women’s rights) records of western-backed African dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Yoweri Museveni, Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, etc.
Frankly, from an economic and moral perspective, I think the western role in post-colonial Africa is analogous to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Instead of direct rule, as in 1885-1965 or so, the west maintains military outposts and economic ties with corrupt local elites, pouring in weapons and extracting resources, damn the human costs. For example, while slavery in West Africa predated the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the rest, the western powers collaborated with predatory local elites to massively expand the business of kidnapping, human trafficking, and forced labor into a massive intercontinental operation. Some merchant princes along the coast, with their partners in London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York (etc.) and the planter bourgeoisie profited while millions of farmers, fisherfolk, and hunter-gatherers got kidnapped, villages burned to the ground, families broken apart, women raped, etc. Compare this to the collaboration between Shell and the Abacha dictatorship in the 1980s, say, while Nigerian security forces were murdering dissidents to better extract oil with a minimum of disruption. A similar arrangement, in my view. External and internal elites collaborating, while the masses get plundered with little say in the matter.
A modern variant on the slave trade may well be what has been going on in Qatar, where migrant workers have had their passports confiscated up entry etc.
Famously, the trans-Atlantic slave trade did not just involve buying slaves. The Europeans also sold things, and weapons e.g. modern firearms were one of the most popular items. Together with enhanced incentives for enslaving people due to added demand (on top of existing demand from African and Middle Eastern slave owning economies), that helped fuel many destructive conflicts all over sub-Saharan Africa.
Of course it didn’t just involve buying slaves. Textiles, guns, iron kettles, and the like were important. The slave trade encouraged a “raid or be raided” arms race in many coastal communities, which traded captives to acquire more guns from the Europeans (see this paper: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/44492/1/MPRA_paper_44492.pdf). As scholars like Joseph Inikori and Toby Green have documented, the prominence of slavery in European-African Atlantic trade gradually increased between the 15th century (when it was a relatively small part of the mix) and the 18th century (when it peaked in volume of shipped captives).
I was making a different point: while barbaric practices like slavery, female genital mutilation, and in some places even cannibalism predated the Europeans, Europeans often made those practices worse and more widespread by pouring in weapons and massively increasing the demand for slaves. One could make a similar point about the effects of western-backed African leaders toppling actual reformers like Sankara who tried to improve women’s rights. I’m not blaming everything on the West, but I also cringe when people shake their finger at human rights abuses in Africa, as if they were entirely indigenous in origin, without acknowledging the role of the West.
Moliere has capture very well the spirit of some of its co-nationals in L’Avare.
But the cherry on the cake, that really describes the despoliatory nature of France is Haiti, who finished paying compensation for the losses of French slave owners / landowners after the Haitian revolution after 150 years.
Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite only for some…
Hotel California, imperial style.
Good for bringing up Haiti. Using the French navy as in you “pay” us for “our” property AKA the former slaves or France blockades Haiti. It is the reason for the forced clear cutting of all its forests by the Haitians.
To a non-economist, the role of France in sub-Saharan poverty is not clear.
The regional economy has long declined due to drought and desertification.
Is there exploitative resource extraction, debt exploitation, or just no prospects?
Are there UN plans to redistribute population in response, and with what prospects?
Could France and the UN do more for aid and development, or is that doomed?
IMO, as a layman, the west African peg to the Euro creates a few winners in west Africa at the expense of the bottom 99%.
Ok, two things.
First, Algeria was never a colony, and any discussion of it has to be separate from that of the ex-French Empire proper. Algeria was legally part of France until 1962, (there were two Départements) and it sent deputies to the French National Assembly. It was part of France in the same way that Ireland was part of the UK until 1921. There was a very large population of European origin, most of whose families had lived there for generations when they were pretty much abandoned by France on independence. These people were not a colonial elite: most of them were working-class, and much poorer than the average French person at the time. Their bitterness at their treatment by De Gaulle was the basis of the foundation of the Front national by Le Pen’s father. That affair, and the abandonment of the harkis the Algerians who supported the French (and in some cases fought with the French Army), who were massacred or forced to flee, remain extremely controversial topics in France even today.
The average Algerian doesn’t give a toss about the period of French rule: the vast majority of the population wasn’t even born then. Young Algerians want to study in France, and preferably stay there. There’s a large Algerian professional class in France, especially in medicine (all my dentists in the Paris area were Algerians). Dissident intellectuals come to France to escape the twin threats of the government and the Islamic extremists. But the average Algerian is very angry about the incompetence and repression of its own government, which has somehow managed to waste a great deal of goodwill and massive natural resources, and produce economic failure and political stagnation. You may remember the hirak the “uprising” of a couple of years ago, when millions took to the streets and eventually managed to force some cosmetic changes in the military regime which has effectively run the country for sixty years. In the face of failure and stagnation, all the regime has been able do is harp endlessly on the War, keep bashing the French and play the anti-colonialist card. But this doesn’t work any more, especially among young people. Indeed, the Algerian regime doesn’t want the issue of the War “settled” because that would take away more or less the only card they have to play to divert attention from their own failings.
As for the photos, this incident hasn’t been mentioned anywhere in the French media that I can see, nor in the Algerian media that I can access. It’s striking that the coverage is in English, and that the Tweeters do not seem to be Algerian or even tweeting from there. One is an ex-mujihadin based, apparently, in Pakistan. It’s quite possible that the Turks are behind this: there’s considerable tension between France and Turkey at the moment. The Turks are in a fierce competition with the Qataris to influence France’s Muslim community, and Erdogan has been his usual considered, thoughtful self on the subject.
As for the article, it’s not clear that either of the authors knows the region, or speaks the language. The relationship between France and its former colonies in Africa has changed radically since 1960 (though you wouldn’t know it from the article) and it’s been recognised since the 90s, and more particularly since the Ivory Coast in 2002, that things had to change. The article itself could have dropped out of an anti-imperialist time-capsule from the 1970s. At a minimum it should have mentioned the CFA devaluation of 1994, Mitterrand’s speech at Baule, and the various other initiatives since. As it is, it just seems a random collection of statistics from different decades thrown together. Many people (see Antoine Glaser’s excellent book “Africa-France”) now argue that the former colonies are a net negative for France, and indeed those who benefit most from them are not the French but the African elites who own property in Paris, send their children to be educated there, receive excellent medical care there and keep their money there, all while publicly condemning France in their own countries. They are probably the main obstacle to further change.
Re: your last paragraph.
My feelings about the local elites in these countries are well known, they’re essentially a millstone impeding progress and change, but they don’t act alone, and France doesn’t get a moral free pass as it’s every bit as complicit as the predatory instincts of these local elites. In my view, rumours of change in the relations between France and its former colonies are greatly exaggerated. Yes things have changed, but at the margins, while the political, financial, corporate, cultural and even philanthropic networks that maintain French power and influence in the region remain very much intact. France still maintains an interventionist foreign policy vis a vis FrancoPhone Africa, and as is often the case in these matters, moral considerations aren’t easily reconciled with “interests” based considerations, and the interests of France in these countries remain wide and varied, so naturally France acts to serve its own said interests, which do not align with the common good of ordinary people in FrancoPhone Africa. I’ve travelled to both France and West Africa on many occasions and have spoken at length to ordinary West Africans ( both in their home countries and in France) about this very subject, and it’s not clear to me that they’re beneficiaries of any change in relations between Paris and their countries. They see in their countries e.g. industrial policy that’s designed to artificially suppress the rise of capable local businesses while funneling most large contracts to French companies, and monetary policy that facilitates unjust capital flight, and the social pull of current culture that portrays all things French as “refined and civilized” and things local as backward and uncivilized.
I know we may never agree on this as we view the situation from different vantage points but from my perspective, France may indeed “giveth to FrancoPhone Africa but France also taketh away more than it giveth”.
I don’t think we necessarily disagree that much, in the sense that we’re talking about slightly different things. I have seen and heard some of the same things as you, although more at the government level, which is where the attempted changes have taken place. The problem is that everyone is, to some extent, a product of the past, and the original version of Francafrique (ie until the end of the Cold War) worked reasonably well in its own terms for both the French and local leaders. (And what I said about local leaders was from Glaser’s book, well worth reading, though it does accord with my experience). It ensured a region that was economically and politically much more stable than elsewhere in Africa, and for the French it was a massive political and economic asset. That was a different era, of course, but the fact is that modern political systems in France and Africa are confronted not only with the overhang of that era, but all the changes since, including much greater US penetration of Africa.
I know from personal experience that the people in charge of making policy on Africa in Paris have realised things have to change for some time. There was an attempt in 2007-8 when Sarkozy was President, but there were just too many commercial and other vested interests, both in France and in its former colonies, and in the end not a lot changed. I do know from talking to the French military at the time that they were very keen to stay out of unilateral military adventures in Africa, after Rwanda and then the Ivory Coast. They did go into Mali in 2013 because the whole of west Africa was screaming for them to do so, and the consequences of Bamako falling to the jihadists were awful to contemplate. But by a process that is drearily familiar, knee-jerk anti-French rhetoric, always good for a few votes, has now returned. Mind you if AQMI get serious again, the same people screaming about imperialism will be demanding they come back.
In the end, I think of Francafrique as a bit of a monster has a life of its own and that nobody knows how to control. After sixty years it’s become so complex and all embracing that it’s hard to see what a new relationship (since there has to be one) would actually consist of, with countries that are so different anyway.
I hadn’t meant to comment at that length: my point really was that the subject deserves an airing (and as we’ve discussed there are some good books on the subject) but this article is just a collection of random statistics.
How is what you wrote not a colonial view of (former) French Africa? I saw that video a few days ago and was impressed by it then; this is the first time I see it posted in English. Obvious that Manu was over his head. And the comments he made that France and Algeria were having a difficult love affair? How degrading. You can’t seriously think that trip went well. It’s all good to be protective of a kind of Vielle France, and its romantic version of the white man’s burden, but France no longer has its key role in the world of diplomacy and being constantly mixed up at a low level (with the CFA franc, but mostly in corrupt business deals) in Magreban and West African economies is embarrassing. Young people there know it, and resent the fact that they can’t make a decent life at home due to their region being sapped of its wealth by Parisian elites and their local lackeys. I’ve had 20-somethings there tell me in exasperated tones “I don’t even want to visit France, we get enough of it shoved down our throats here.” Goodwill, squandered.
I was commenting on the Algerian trip, which I think was a mistake like all similar trips have been. The difficulty is that Macron has decided that he’s going to be the one to Settle the Algerian Problem, which isn’t actually a problem that the power elite in Algiers wants settled, because they can make too much capital out of it. (To be fair he has taken an initiative about the harkis which previous governments have balked at). But the war was over sixty years ago, neither side can be very proud of what they did, and the Algerians I have met, at least, just want to get on with their lives. It’s a facet of this terrible modern liberal belief that if you can only sit thoughtful academics around a table, they can rationally arrive at a version of the truth that will be acceptable to everyone. But the problem is that the claims to legitimacy of the regime, tenuous as they are, are entirely based on suppressing and distorting the truth about much of what happened before and after 1962. They aren’t alone in this of course – manufactured national myths are quite common – but it’s precisely for this reason that attempts like Macron’s are a waste of time. Now to be fair, the main business of the trip was to discuss energy, where there are important interests on both sides, and according to the two governments, that went well.
I take issue with your claims that Algeria wasn’t a colony, that nobody cares anymore, and that the Europeans were just some salt of the earth, hard-working guys.
1. Algeria was never a colony, and any discussion of it has to be separate from that of the ex-French Empire proper.
Indeed Algeria was not given the status of a colony, but was annexed into France. This was not a beneficial development, quite the opposite. It meant that the country had no claim to any independent identity whatsoever. In any case, the annexation should not detract from the colonial nature of French occupation. There are good reasons why French Algeria is also known as Colonial Algeria, and the process of achieving independence is called ‘the decolonization of Algeria’. Given the colonial nature of French rule, I would think that calling Algeria a colony is entirely appropriate, even if technically incorrect.
2. The average Algerian doesn’t give a toss about the period of French rule: the vast majority of the population wasn’t even born then.
Only a Westerner can imagine that today’s Algerians regard the past with indifference. First, the conquest of Algeria by the French in the 1830s ‘reached genocidal proportions” (Wikipedia). The most reliable estimates indicate that between the French invasion of 1830 and the end of fighting in the mid-1870s the native population of Algeria fell by a third (Britannica). Entire tribes were massacred, exiled to neighboring countries, or deported to French colonies in the New World.
Secondly, as Algeria became part of France in 1848, French settlers came to have full rights under French law, while native Algerians were treated as foreigners in their own country. Muslims, who represented 90% of Algeria’s population, were not considered citizens of France; to obtain citizenship, they were required to renounce their religion, identity, and customary law. Unsurprisingly, there were few takers. Thus the overwhelming majority of Algerians had no representation in the French National Assembly.
3. There was a very large population of European origin… these people were not a colonial elite: most of them were working-class, and much poorer than the average French person at the time.
After resistance had been crushed, the French military instituted a large-scale program of confiscating all fertile land. Muslim village were destroyed and up to 2 million Algerian civilians were deported in internment camps. Algerian peasants moved to marginal lands and in the vicinity of forests, setting in motion the widespread environmental degradation that has affected Algeria ever since.
Many Frenchmen engaged in land speculation and were able to swindle even more Algerians out of their land. The most enterprising built drinking establishments: by 1837, alcohol was the largest colonial import. ‘Gradually the European population established nearly total political, economic, and social domination over the country and its native inhabitants.’ (Britannica)
Settlers owned most productive assets (farms, businesses, and workshops), while Muslims experienced underemployment and chronic unemployment. By 1953, 60% of the Muslim rural population were officially classed as destitute. The European community, which represented 10% of the population, owned 66% of farmable land.
Muslims, in addition to paying traditional taxes dating from before the French conquest, also paid new taxes, from which the colons were exempted. In 1909, Muslims, who made up 90% of the population, produced only 20% of Algeria’s income, but paid 70% of direct taxes and 45% of the total taxes collected. However, because settlers held the political power, they were the ones who controlled how the revenues would be spent.
It is a longish post, I know, but I am constitutionally incapable to pass over any piece of colonial apologetics.
Will be interested in the views of David, notre homme en France.
Western leaders can expect more or less this type of reception when they visit us in Africa, especially if they don’t disabuse themselves of the notion of western “geopolitical anthropocentrism”. It was refreshing watching Anthony Blinken’s priceless reaction during his recent visit to South Africa when our foreign minister Naledi Pandor delivered a few home truths about the negative consequences of America’s involvement in the affairs of African countries. There was none of the fawning deference the US (and the west) has come to expect from so-called “third-world countries”, just the historical account laid out clearly and candidly, and a firm resolve to hold the line on neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Olaf Scholz got the same treatment during his visit earlier in the year.
As regards France, the pieties about FrancoPhone West African countries being de facto french colonies in the present exist in situ in the minds of France’s political elites. France will go to great lengths to limit the upward economic mobility of these countries while maintaining the ability to stir up trouble should any modern leader have misguided ambitions of breaking free from Paris’ orbit (including having local paid legionairres at the ready as a destabilizing force that can be “activated” in short order). Whatever one thinks about the leadership in Mali, they’re resolute in their intent to break the chains of French bondage, and if they succeed, other countries in the region may find the courage to do the same and forge a different path for themselves than the one imposed by France, especially now that alternatives abound because other great powers are vying for influence in the region.
And as I recall things, France played an active role in encouraging the US to destroy Gaddaffi’s Libya (an ex Italian colony, rather than French).
Gaddaffi’s sin was his attempt to establish a new pan-African currency, backed by Libya’s substantial gold reserves.
Where are those gold reserves now, one wonders…
Like the guy had not been on the MIC’s designated (cartoon) villain list for ages…
Actually, no. Gadaffi was very much back in favour after 2004, in the context of the War on Terror, and western intelligence agencies started establishing close relationships with his own regime. There was also an enormous market opening up. The French were there from the start, and Gadaffi visited Paris in 2007 to sign lots of valuable contracts with Sarkozy. There were close business links between Sarkozy’s circle and the Libyan regime, and everyone was anticipating a bonanza of contracts and access to Libyan petrochemicals. All of this was derailed by the Arab Spring. The West had assumed that the Libyan regime was highly secure and authoritarian, but in fact Gadaffi survived by playing off tribes against each other, and so when serious demonstrations broke out his position was quickly undermined. The French, like other western nations, worried that a new regime would identify them too closely with Gadaffi and shut them out of all these contracts. They therefore decided to change sides quickly, and present themselves as the liberators of the country. All of that (as in Syria) was premised on the idea that Gadaffi would fall in a few days and be replaced by a stable, pro-western regime. Ha ha.
Gadaffi was full of fantasy ideas, which he bought lip-service to from African politicians by organised bribery. The African currency is an example. Few (perhaps no) African states would have been prepared to have their economic policies decided in Tripoli.
Libya and Syria was on the US neocon short list – the seven countries in five years – despite their collaboration with the war on terror.
And when an opportunity presented itself the US and the west was quick to side with the rebels. In Syrias case we know thanks to Manning and Wikileaks that the ground had been laid – starting during the Bush years, continuing under Obama – with propaganda and assistance to opposition. We also know that the US embassador at the time wrote in a cabel that the Syrian government would see this as acts of wars if it came out. In Libyas case I think we know less about the preparations, but we do know that the Libyan government held most territory and were on the offensive until their armed forces were crushed in by a western bombing campaign. We also know that the bombing campaign continued attacking loyalist strongholds (despite being claimed to be about resbosabbility to protect civilians from bombings) until the regime crumbled.
To contrast we also know that the US and the west publically ignored and privately supported the authoritarian regimes on the Arabian peninsula when they crushed the Arab Spring there.
There is opportunism here, but it is not just opportunistically supporting rebels to get on their good side. Rather it is about taking the opportunity to get rid of unwanted regimes.
Syria yes, but ironically the intervention was purely opportunistic, because they thought the regime was fragile and would fall quickly, so why not give it a push? Libya was different, and whatever the neo-cons may have thought, there was a lot of pragmatic cooperation with the Libyan regime. But my point remains, once it looked as if Gaddafi might fall, the only thing the French could do (and that’s what this discussion is about) was to pile in and hope to take credit for his fall.
Thanks for upping this. Part of a necessarily wider anti-imperialist conversation that needs to penetrate the sois-disant-left.
Fadhel Kaboub (via #Twitter), part of the UMKC/MMT brain trust, is a good person to follow on monetary sovereignty for Africa.
Late to comment here but this is a good post as well as lots of great comments. So I will limit myself to a very minor point. Looking at that video of Macron, does he look high to anyone? Seriously, I thought it the first time I saw that video and seeing it again only reinforces this thought. He can’t read the mood of the crowd and wants to go swanning towards him while his security detail seemed to be in a minor panic at how Macron wants to go his own way.
I too thought something was going wrong, or, had ego taken over.
Recommended reading: Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla, L’arme invisible de la Françafrique – Une histoire du Franc CFA (French); Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story (English). I wrote up short English-language chapter summaries starting here.
Far as I understand it France is not an empire with power in the world competing with the US and the UK in the institutions of our world. It is the way money made in the North African Nations using the CFA currency ends up in the French Banks to be returned after France gets whatever it is it can get continues to hold French colonies back.
The interest France has in doing what things I does to keep presence in North Africa, French language, French school textbooks. keeps for France the appearance of an Empire. Better to not claim to be an empire and be still somewhat the empire primarily due to the language and the currency.