French President Emmanuel Macron visited Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau last month as his first trip to the continent after re-election. In order to understand Macron’s visit, and objections against his Africa vision, we need to remember the story from the beginning.
At the end of the World War II, European countries were in a state of exhaustion and depression. The colonial empires of Britain and France understood that they could no longer maintain the colonial order. In those years, the whole world was focused on Algeria’s war of independence along with the genocide and war crimes committed by France. France was making plans to establish a new order in the colonial lands outside Algeria in order to preserve its sphere of influence while colonial countries would be given independence.
Decolonization of Sub-saharan Africa
The Communauté française process, which means the preparation for decolonization, began in 1957. General Charles de Gaulle, who came to power in 1958, continued the process together with his close friend Jacques Foccart. Foccart is known as the father of neo-colonial order called “Françafrique” today. Françafrique, which reigns especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, has been the name of covert operations, interventions, neo-colonial interest networks, illegal commercial activities and the hegemony embodied by these last ones for decades.
Political elites in newly independent African countries were determined by the media, personal networks, and source of financial support during decolonization process. We must note that all the elites have been educated in metropolitan France, so the French culture was dominant among them. On the other hand, to understand what happened to anti-colonial political leaders, it will be enough to look at what happened to Félix-Roland Moumié, a Cameroonian doctor and politician. He paid the price for his anti-colonial political ideology in a way that being poisoned to death in Switzerland by the French intelligence SDECE in 1960.
The military and civil bureaucratic elites were educated and had served for years on behalf of the French Republic. Many of them had problems about belonging to the newly established African states. They saw their own countries as underdeveloped while their people and politicians were despised. Under these conditions, the first military coup in Sub-Saharan Africa took place in Togo in 1963.
After the end of war with Algeria in 1962, this coup, carried out by the soldiers who left the French army and returned to their respective countries, took place with the knowledge and consent of France. Foccart confirms it in his memoirs that over significant part of the 214 military coups that took place on the African continent, France has an explicit or implicit, direct or indirect influence.
As for the economic elite, the two sources of wealth in the newly established states were the state apparatus and foreign capital. While the states in Francophone Africa were sustained with the foreign aid of France, the economy also needed French investment. No need to say that under these circumstances, the economic actors who are partners of French companies were getting stronger.
Building dependencies on all realms
Foccart was establishing direct links with the elites of decolonized countries. By establishing friendly relations with some, and relations based on self-interest with others, he had quickly built a neocolonial network. Direct relations have made Françafrique more sustainable yet all these was not enough alone. Political, legal, financial, military and cultural dependencies were also needed for Françafrique to achieve success. The defense and military-technical cooperation agreements ensured France the right to train local soldiers to intervene in the institutional functioning of the armies. Thanks to military agreements, France perpetuated its military power in Sub-Saharan Africa and did not even need to establish military bases all over the region. “Coopérants”, “conseiller militaires”, “spécialiste militaires”, ENVRs (regional military schools in the African continent) have always kept a strong military network of France alive in the region. An obvious impact of all these actors on the internal security of the states and arise of the crises could be observed.
Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who overthrew President David Dacko of Central African Republic by a military coup on the first day of 1966 (Christmas Coup), had the full support of France when he established a dictatorship in the country. He immediately declared his empire (!) following the opposition was murderously eliminated. The bribery scandal of Bokassa with former French President Valérie Giscard D’Estaing, known as the diamond case, is well-known since it was covered in the media. In 1996, Bokassa, dismissed by a military coup supported by France, claimed in an interview that France still had not paid for the uranium it took from Central African Republic. Today France, producing energy with its 58 nuclear reactors, supplies one-third of the uranium it needs from the Central African Republic and two-thirds from Niger.
The West and Central African countries had also faced pressure for using the Franc CFA before gaining their independence from France. A significant portion of the deposits in these currencies, which are still in circulation today, are being stocked in French banks as per the agreements. The Republic of Guinea, led by Ahmed Sekou Touré, which refused to be included in the Franc CFA region and set its own currency, was severely punished.
In 1959, French intelligence dropped sacks full of fake Guinea Francs printed in France from helicopters and planes all over the country. This operation is known as “Operation Persil” and had lasted for months, until it left the Guinean economy in a difficult position. Touré was exposed to many assassination and coup attempts until 1984. France, which turned its authority over the CFA region into an element of oppression and sanctions on African states, devalued the CFA Franc by 50% during the Mittérrand period. Another country punished for Franc CFA was Mali.
The hegemonic attitude of France is systematic
Paris, working with a Special Presidential Adviser for Africa (cellule africaine) since Jacques Foccart, defines African foreign policy as the “domaine résérvé du Président de la République” which means “the domain reserved to the French President”. The informal terminology used for ex-colonial countries gives a clear idea of Françafrique’s universe of meaning. The hegemonic attitude of France against its former colonies is neither historical nor periodic but systematic.
Françafrique’s bloody history causes much more than a crisis of confidence between France and African states today, it weakens the hegemonic ties as well. Beninese Foreign Minister Aurelien Agbenonci’s dusting off his shoulder after being touched by Macron might make everything more meaningful.