Paris Wants to Show Strength, but Faces Geopolitical Crisis in Africa

Yves here. Yesterday, we featured a Nick Turse post on how the US is being run out of Niger and among other things, leaving a big pricey military base behind.

This post describes an even more chastening reversal, that of French troops being expelled from West Africa. Mind you, the story below is not new news, but takes stock of France’s diminished influence in the region. At least as important as France’s military presence was economic sway through its Franc zone and related financial institutions and mechanisms.

By Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts. Originally published at InfoBRICS

Last week, Ruth Maclean, writing for the New York Times, reported on how democracy is stumbling in the Former French colonies in Africa – this is just part of the story, though. One may recall that on January 2, 2024, two weeks after the African country’s coup, Paris announced it had closed down its embassy in Niger” until further notice”. The new Nigerien military leadership in fact expelled the French, after ousting and house-arresting the former leader Mohamed Bazoum (on July 26, 2023). Five military agreements with France were revoked by the military government in August last year, and the last contingent of the 1,500 troops Paris deployed in Niger left in December. This put an end to a decade of French anti-jihadist missions in the West African Sahel region. The French troops also left Mali and Burkina Faso, in what has been described as a “domino effect”.

The Niger disaster (from a French perspective) was indeed preceded by the Mali disaster – not to mention Chad. Apart from the local coups and foreign policy shifts, there is a change in the political and emotional climate as well. Macron, like other French leaders, might talk about a “communauté de destin” or a common destiny in Africa, especially in the so-called Franc Zone, but African leaders and public opinion are increasingly hearing “neocolonialism” instead.

French neocolonial hold over part of Africa in fact materializes in many forms, which include a military presence, but also monetary institutions. All of them are being questioned.

Take Italy’s Prime-Minister Giorgina Meloni spot-on comments on a 2019 video (which resurfaced in 2022), for instance. In her recorded talk, which caused quite a fuss, Meloni exposed France’s neocolonial grip over 14 former colonies in West Africa and Central Africa, all of which still employ the CFA Franc, a colonial currency issued by Paris, the CFA standing for “Communauté Financière Africaine” (French for “African Financial Community”). Her points should to be taken seriously.

To be more precise, there are two currencies both currently called “CFA Franc”: one is the West African CFA franc, and the other is the Central African CFA franc. The former is used by the West African nations of Niger, Mali, Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo. All these countries are part of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), and the West African CFA franc is actually issued by the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), located in Dakar (Senegal). The CFA franc notes themselves, however, since the currency’s creation in 1945, have been produced by the Bank of France at Chamalières. The currency was introduced by French colonial authorities, replacing the previous French West African franc.

The Central African CFA franc in turn (whose notes are also produced by the Bank of France since colonial times) is the currency of the Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.

This monetary situation has been the target of much African criticism and angry protests over the last years.  Among other things, with both CFA currencies, the central banks of all of the African nations involved are to keep at least 50% of their foreign assets in the French Treasury, which supposedly keeps the currency stable, at the cost of limiting the economic independence of these nations.

The fixed exchange rate has affected the Central African economies mostly, due to their high levels of excess liquidity (from oil revenues) – and also the West African ones, which suffer from external shocks, according to Landry Signé, a senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development Program and the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. Signé argues that the CFA franc zone has brought about an intense vulnerability to such external shocks, has limited intra-regional trade in Central Africa, has narrowed the industrial base, and has made countries highly dependent on producing a limited number of primary commodities to be exported. It does sound quite colonial, doesn’t it?

It is no wonder the larger Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which the members of UEMOA are also members, is planning to introduce its own common currency for its member by 2027

Paris is currently involved in  a competition with Moscow in Africa, for providing security and counter-terrorism assistance. This can be seen in the Libya crisis too, which has been a major setback for France and a real “end of an era” development. The problem, for Paris, is that anti-French feelings are on the rise in the African continent (from the Sahel to Central Africa and West Africa), with political repercussions, while pro-Russian feelings are far from being a new thing in the region: since the early decolonization period in the1950s, the Soviet Union supported a large part of the African independence struggles.

Macron’s recent sudden “tougher” stance on Russia, which actually started to gradually take shape last year, has also a lot to do with Paris’ attempt to show strength (that is, greater autonomy from Washington) and to “flex muscle”, preparing for a Trump presidency scenario. One should not expect too much from Trump’s supposed isolationism – any American president can only do so much when it comes to countering the US “double government” system.  Likewise, one should not bet on Paris’ (or Berlin, for that matter) flirt with “strategic autonomy”. European powers, France included, are too entwined in NATO’s structures to go too far in that regard – and Paris now faces its own geopolitical crisis in Africa and abroad. It is quite possible Washington will feel the need to get more and more involved in Africa in any case, with Biden’s redeployment of US forces in Somalia being perhaps just a warm-up – despite its failure.

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    1. K.M

      One of the intended purposes of the Libya “Regime Change ” was the destabilisation of the sahel. The target was China and its trading and mounting influence in Africa.

      The whole operation has turned into a fiasco:
      Having tried to bully the traders (chinese), they invited the fighters (russians ) to come to fix the mess and throw -with a certain collaboration with the traders -the west forces out.

      The french presence influence in Africa is no longer compatible with the current world order. The US has to fight China and Russia mounting influence in Africa. The french presence with the associated extreme poverty in West Africa is just making the task more difficult for the US. They have to dissociate themselves from the french failure in Africa to be able to engage the africans and then hope to contain China and russia there at the least possible cost. French was therefore asked by the US to withdraw from the scene in Africa.

      I am afraid the US has reacted too late.

  1. The Rev Kev

    If this keeps up, the French possessions in the South Pacific may come into question as well. It’s amazing what happens when these countries ask themselves what they are getting out of their agreements with France and the ones in Africa have found they gain very little but lose a lot every single year. The French inability to deal with the terrorist in Africa may have been what pushed these countries into taking action as it threatened those countries themselves.

  2. Ben Panga

    I’ve come to think of our current period as The New Confusion, in reference to Neal Stephenson’s book The Confusion (part of The Baroque Cycle) set around the upheavals of 1664-1725

    A decades long process of changing power structures and changing belief systems marked by war, world upending technological developments, and perhaps most importantly a different understanding of reality itself (then the birth of Newtonian materialist worldview; these days it’s demise).

    During The Confusion little is clear, and the future is opaque, terrifying, and in some ways appealing.

    You can cite the natural end of US dominance, the rise of the internet, the deep implications of quantum physics, or whatever else. Seismic shifts abound.

    “Our” thinking and systems have been running on the software created in that earlier Confusion. Our politicians, thought leaders, and capital owners are invested in that system and fight to keep it running, no matter how dysfunctional it has become. We can all see the insanity they are trying to impose on citizens and nature.

    We are deep in the Confusion now. Change from within seems impossible. Yet, the new has not yet properly emerged.

    Eventually (if humans don’t self destruct) a new system will emerge. But it looks like it will get much more messy first. Until then I’m staying out of the way in SE Asia and trying to do good things on a small scale.

    [This is just a working theory of this fairly ignorant human; I’m as confused as anybody else]

    1. Ben Panga

      Another strand of this theory is that the earlier Confusion birthed modern Anglo banking, and this New Confusion sees it covering and destroying everything that is good like some kind of economic kudzu. This cannot continue much longer I think, and we are maybe seeing that in the new non- western structures emerging.

      I won’t even try to expand on this here as I’m aware how ignorant I am about finance/economics in comparison to many posters and our host at NC.

  3. disc_writes

    >Giorgina Meloni

    Sigh. No day goes by without a foreign journalist misspelling an Italian name. It is *Giorgia* Meloni.

    Do you know how unprofessional it is when you write about someone, and cannot even get his or her name right?

  4. TomDority

    “New York Times, reported on how democracy is stumbling”
    The new call from chicken little – democracy is stumbling, falling, staggering ……or whatever desperate word. I hear it everywhere – and always an excuse to do some horrid thing or another.
    democracy is stumbling, falling, staggering – sounds like democracy is some drunk fool going who knows where
    Never fear, our fearless leaders are here. unfortunately they believe the meme without a clue to fill-in a definition of democracy.

    1. CA

      “The new call from chicken little – democracy is stumbling, falling, staggering ……or whatever desperate word. I hear it everywhere – and always an excuse to do some horrid thing or another.”

      Look to the surprisingly many former French colonies in Africa and what is striking are the remarkably low per capita GDP levels and lack of development:

      March 22, 2024

      Democracy Teetering in African Countries Once Ruled by France
      A wave of military coups and presidents clinging to power are two sides of the same anti-democratic coin plaguing Francophone Africa, experts say.

    2. Randy

      “democracy is some drunk fool going who knows where” is a good metaphor to describe what has been occurring since the turn of the century.

      1. Kouros

        Countries have some form of electoral system, that is true, but to call that “democracy” is a very, very, very tall order indeed.

    3. CA

      Stumbling for decades in Africa’s many former French colonies has been movement to development:

      Per capita GDP for Niger in 2023 was $1,579, while that for France was $56,305:

      Chad ( $1,807)
      Madagascar ( $1,907)
      Mali ( $2,639)
      Benin ( $4,305)
      Senegal ( $4,325)
      Cote d’Ivoire ( $6,960) …

  5. Matthew G. Saroff

    I just wanted to note that there is an excellent Youtube video, which you can find here, which explains just how deeply and profoundly exploitative and evil the French post-colonial regime has been.

    France has been looting its former colonial possessions since their nominal independence.

  6. Jaduong

    This discussion seems to me to be considering only part of the story. No serious discussion about what is replacing France and the US. From my limited reading it is Wagner/ Russia and or Belt andRoad/China. Are we thinking that these new colonial powers will be any better for the people of West and Central Africa? Africa needs real independence, and I’m not sure they will get it.

  7. K.M

    In the post war world order, Africa was not important for the two Super powers. The fight was centered on Europe and Asia especially China.

    Africa was left by the US to France and UK to manage it as they see fit. The Soviet union had non serious objection.

    With the emergence of China , the situation has completely changed. The old order does no longer work. There must be a new order in Africa.

    The US foreign policy has forced Russia and China to come together to challenge US hegemony everywhere in the world, including Africa.
    With the russian military stengnth and the Chinese economic might at the time of the economic collapse of Europe because of the project Ukraine there can be no doubt of the outcome of the “fight” in Africa.

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