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Bleeding Africa: A Half Century of the Françafrique

Africans Greet China.jpg

Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China’s president Hu Jintao in Monrovia.

The first article in the Loonwatch original series, This is Africa.

by Ilisha

Africa is rich with abundant, untapped natural resources. Yet decades after achieving formal independence from colonial rule, most African countries remain poor and unstable.

According to the dominant narrative, the West continues to reluctantly shoulder White Man’s Burden, tirelessly intervening to save the Africans from their own endemic savagery. Offering generous aid and even putting their own troops in harm’s way to quell the never-ending scourge of violence, the enlightened West continues efforts to spread the light of  “freedom and democracy” across the dark continent.

Meanwhile, various incarnations of “Islamic extremists” are equally devoted to their mission, terrorizing innocent people and plunging one country after another into chaos with their gruesome madness. Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Ansar Dine in Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, and most recently, the mysterious Séléka in the Central Africa Republic, bring misery to the already bleak African landscape.

This stark binary is the dominant narrative distilled: simplistic, sensational, self-serving and highly misleading. This series is aimed at offering in-depth analysis and alternative perspectives, including some African voices that have emerged via the growing English-language media based in Africa. 

Three times larger than the United States and spanning some 50 countries, the continent of Africa is an enormous and daunting topic. It’s hard to know where to begin. But when it comes to present-day intrigue and exploitation, perhaps the best place to start is not in Africa, but rather in France.

French Dependence on Africa

Most people in the West probably think of Africa as being dependent on Western largess, not the other way around. After all, the Western countries are prosperous enough to take care of their own and even lend a hand to developing nations, while African countries struggle with widespread poverty.

In fact, many countries depend on African resources to sustain their economies and ensure future growth. France in particular has a tremendous stake in its former African colonies, as consecutive French leaders have openly confessed:

‘Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century”  ~ Former Prime Minister François Mitterrand, in 1957

“…without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power” ~ Former French President Jacques René Chirac, in 2008

“…a little country [France], with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our] relations with 15 or 20 African countries…” ~ Former French minister Jacques Godfrain, in 2011

We have to speak the language of truth: African growth pulls us along, its dynamism supports us and its vitality is stimulating for us… We need Africa.” ~ Speech by French finance minister Pierre Moscovici, December, 2013

“…France, along with Europe, would like to be even more involved in the destiny of your continent..tomorrow’s economy will heavily depend on the strength and vibrancy of African businessesThe goal I have set is to double the level of trade between France and Africa in five years. ~ Speech by Current President François Hollande at the Elysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa, December, 2013

Current French President Francois Hollande wants to double trade with Africa within five years, in the hopes of creating some 200,000 jobs in his country. While Africa accounts for only about 3% of French exports, it is an important supplier of oil and metals vital to French interests. For example, one-quarter of France’s energy production depends on uranium from Niger.

French energy companies are also key players in markets in South Africa, Egypt and Algeria, while the French telecommunications firm Orange has stakes in Kenya, Niger, Cameroon, Mauritania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, and Senegal. French cosmetic companies, including L’Oreal and Pernod Richard, also have a strong presence in the consumer sector in various African countries, and several French companies operate air, land, and sea transportation and shipping. French companies also have significant interests in tropical commodities and agriculture, just to name a few of their commercial endeavors in Africa.

Almost a quarter of a million French nationals are living as expats in Africa, and the country shares cultural and linguistic ties with broad swaths of the continent. The African states help sustain France’s image as a major, influential world power, as alluded to in the statements of French leaders. Francophone African regimes have been a source of votes in support of French objectives at the UN, and key allies in international negotiations and joint intelligence and military operations.

France now faces competition from other emerging powers making enticing offers to African leaders, who are increasingly eager to accept more advantageous arrangements, most notably in the case of China. However, Francophone African countries remain tethered to France by various mechanisms traced back to direct colonial rule.

The Colonial Legacy

Colonialism never really ended. The widely shared assumption in the West is that former colonies have enjoyed self rule for decades, and by now, they should have blossomed into stable, flourishing democracies. If they have failed, they have only themselves to blame. This myth persists because the sophisticated schemes of neocolonial rule are largely hidden from public view.

The Western imperial powers did not simply hand lands and resources back to the native people with no strings attached. On the eve of granting formal independence to their former colonies, the Western imperial powers devised agreements that were allegedly designed to help the new nations transition successfully into modern, prosperous nation states. Half a century (1960-present) is a very long “transitional” period.

Françafrique: The Servitude of the Colonial Pact

Mamadou Koulibaly, professor of economics and former speaker of the Ivorian Assembly, has expounded on the details of this lopsided agreement between France and its former colonies in his book, The Servitude of the Colonial Pact. Based primarily on Koulibaly’s book, this section highlights ways the French virtually enslave and exploit their “former” colonies.

When they gained formal independence, France created a currency for fourteen African nations in West and Central Africa called the CFA (an acronym for Communauté Financière Africaine). There is the West African CFA and the Central African CFA. To add a veneer of legitimacy to the CFA franc, it was entrusted to African banks. However, African control of the currency is an illusion. The CFA franc is African in name only.

The French did not have to devise their scheme from scratch. The Nazis had already taught them some lessons in plunder during the German occupation of France in the 1940s. The Nazis had also used currency manipulations and tentacles lodged deep in the banking system to siphon wealth from France to subsidize German expansionist military adventures.[1] A similar model was deployed by the Soviet Union to exploit Eastern Europe under the so-called Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation, and Mutual Assistance, better known in the West as the Warsaw Pact.

To this day, the French Treasury effectively controls both CFA currencies. The Colonial Pact requires each of the fourteen member states to keep 65% of their foreign currency reserves in the French Treasury, plus another 20% for financial liabilities. This means 85% of the money is in the French treasury, leaving the African nations with access to only 15% of their own foreign currency reserves.

If they need access to more than the 15%, which they almost always do, they must request a loan from France. These nations not only have to borrow their own reserves from France. They also must pay commercial interest rates on the loans. France profits both from the investment of other nation’s reserves, and the interest they charge for lending a portion of the reserve to the countries that funded it in the first place.

However, even this lopsided arrangement is bounded by restrictions. A cap is placed on the credit extended so each member country can borrow only up to a maximum determined by the amount of their public revenue in the preceding year. They cannot borrow more, regardless of their financial needs. Remember we are talking about the access member nations have to their own foreign reserves.

A fixed value currency artificially maintains a zone of economic influence, limiting the ability of African countries to control their own currencies. The French Treasury, which invests African money in its own name on the Paris stock exchange, has the final say on all CFA arrangements. It is the French Treasury that makes crucial decisions, such as controlling the money supply (how much is printed) and scheduling currency devaluations.

The French government devalued the CFA franc by 50 percent in 1994. This meant that workers’ wages were cut in half overnight and the price of imported goods, particularly medicines, rose steeply. However, the French had told their allies in the ruling classes of the decision in advance. They saw their wealth double in a day by converting their money into Western currencies.

Suffocating control over the African wealth does not stop with the currency and banking system. The Colonial Pact also stipulates that the French must be given first right to buy or reject any natural resources found in the land of the CFA countries. Even if the African countries can fetch higher prices elsewhere, they can’t sell to anybody until France has its fill. If there is anything left over, only then can it be sold to other buyers.

A similar requirement applies to the award of government contracts in the African countries. French companies have first dibs. A free market economy would allow Africans to benefit from competitive contracts with other countries, which may offer more favorable terms than the French. Obviously, that sort of “free market” maneuvering does not serve French imperial interests.

Recolonizing Africa

The ailing French economy has increased pressure on French leaders, who have in turn tightened their grip in a campaign some have dubbed the “recolonization” of Africa, perpetuating the myth of some phantom era of genuine independence. Perhaps more than ever, the French, along with the rest of Europe, are casting greedy eyes on African resources as their own economies unravel.  Recent statements about “increased trade” in cooperation with “strong allies” is imperial lexicon signaling increased neocolonial plunder, facilitated by complicit regimes.

French troops intervened militarily in Africa 19 times between 1962 and 1995, and 35 times in the last 15 years, including recent invasions of Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Mali and most recently, the Central African Republic. Intervention is almost always sold to the public on the grounds of “humanitarian intervention.” Evidence suggests the real purpose has almost always been to prop up pro-Western regimes or to install new petite bourgeoisie governments subservient to French interests.

Assault of the Chinese Win-Win Agreement

Foreign competition for Africa’s resources is fierce. The African people, who obviously should have first rights, have long attempted to wrestle control from the colonial powers. As is the case with colonized people all over the world, many African leaders realize the importance of advancing their interests as part of a united front. Pan-Arab, Pan-African and Pan-Islamic solidarity have been advanced at one time or another to throw off the colonial yoke.

Perhaps no one recognizes the power of solidarity movements as much as the imperial powers themselves, who have always depended heavily on divide-and-conquer strategies to keep the boot on the necks of their subjects:

“France views Pan-Africanism as a threat to Western interests in Africa in general and French interests in Africa in particular.”  ~ French Defense Report, October, 2012

Any effort to unite against the imperial powers is vigorously opposed. But indigenous resistance is not the only obstacle. France and the rest of the imperial vanguard also face a new threat from China. The Asian Tiger has growing investments in Africa and a competing win-win strategy that has attracted considerable African interest. Countries like South Africa, CAR, and Angola have signed co-operation agreements in defense, minerals, and energy with China and other emerging powers.

Instead of rigged elections, coups, massive theft, debt slavery, devious scheming under the cover of lies, and ultimately, absolute subjugation of Africans, China seeks partners to not only bring profits to China, but truly aid in African development and eventual genuine independence. China’s African win-win policy includes reduced-interest loans, debt-forgiveness, grants, shared investments, and plans to help African countries eliminate poverty and consolidate their independence. [2] If the final result is stable, prosperous nations, the Chinese have expressed hope that a robust middle class will in turn provide a consumer market for Chinese goods and services.

In the unlikely event Chinese ambitions can be curtailed in the long run, other emerging powers, including Brazil, Russia, India, and Turkey, will continue to present new challenges to the near monopoly France and other Western imperial powers have enjoyed for decades.

France is not the only Western imperial power alarmed by Chinese ascendancy:

“China’s reach in Africa has grown dramatically in the past decade, and the rate of increased Chinese trade and investment in Africa is truly staggering. Between 2000 and 2010, trade between China and African nations grew by more than a thousand percent…the average rate of growth in China’s trade with Africa outpaced that of the U.S. by more than 100%. China clearly sees Africa for what it is – a continent of immense opportunity….

…The U.S. government must pursue an aggressive strategy that aims to capitalize on the vast array of opportunities in Africa. We simply cannot afford to lose out to China in the private sector, and – in the public sector – we must ensure that our values are not undermined by China’s expansive political and economic agenda.” ~ Senator Christopher CoonsOpening Statement: Chairing Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee hearing entitled, “China’s Role in Africa: Implications for U.S. Policy”

Traditional Western imperial powers are trying desperately to secure and expand their own regional ambitions while containing the influence of China and other emerging powers. Simplistic narratives fed to the public are betrayed by the ruthless calculus of the imperial powers howling endlessly about “Islamic terrorism,” yet never missing an opportunity align with Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups in the name of political expediency.

Fabled advocacy for human rights, freedom, and democracy for African countries manufactures popular consent for French, British, and American intervention in Africa. The ever-present threat of “violent jihad,” whether real, imagined, or manufactured, provides a handy pretext for aggressive neocolonial subversion, invasion, and long-term, systematic dominance.

With this background in mind, this series can address events in specific African countries. The next article will explore the behind-the-scenes role of France in the tragic events that have recently unfolded in the Central African Republic.

[1] Götz Aly, Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State (New York: Holt, 2008), 80-83

[2] Robert I. Rotberg, China Into Africa: Trade, Aid, and Influence (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 32-34

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    • Krankerdelic

      Very, very informative, thank you very much!

    • Matt longhouse

      The article failed to discuss the French role in the Rawandan genocide; the centre right government in France armed the Hutus indiscriminately

    • Rights

      I have been missing out on this thread. Good job, Ilisha. Very hard work. I read every word.

      I certainly hope that the competing new comers in Africa, notably China and India, don’t play the same games as did the European colonialists – greed, selfishness, plundering, subjugation, usurpation, and the like. And I hope Africa fully capitalizes on its relationships with these new players to develop its economies and education. I know of at least one precedent in which China has been playing its hand with as genuine a heart as a nation could – Pakistan. If you ask the Pakistanis who their best friend in the World is, they almost invariably say China. But they do not have kind words for the US and Saudi Arabia as Pakistan’s friends, despite much aid from these two nations. But I do recognize that no nation can be, nor it has to be, entirely selfless in helping others.

    • Mehdi

      I would agree with both of you… One of the points about China is that it brings in competition and gives local governments options that they didn’t have before when they could only decide to award contracts to Western companies. But this won’t fix one of the core issues of African economies, they are built on the principle of selling natural resources to former colonialist powers in exchange for money and political support, switching with China may change the amounts and nature of the support (win-win deals being a change of nature) but it won’t fix the problem of the economical structures, the fact that most contracts still end up in corruption towards the elites, and the win-win contracts being sometimes not that useful (not all roads are good for the population). There have been some local riots against Chinese contractors recently and it’s a sign that deals are not always win-win. In the end, African economies need a transformation that goes beyond these deals. So switching to China or other countries is a step in the right direction as it debunks the Western hypocrisy, but it is absolutely not enough… Much more is needed.

    • Mehdi

      Ah sorry, no idea

    • Jekyll

      Antony Beevor

  • Mehdi

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