Françafrique, a Never Ending Story



Although we are in the 21st century, the past thirty years have seen a curious pattern. The president of a Western country, a few months after the start of his mandate, comes to deliver, every five years, an incongruous two-hour speech in an African country, about his vision of an entire continent. He comes to say, solemnly, that nothing will ever be the same and that from now on, France will deal with its African “partners” as equals. Disguised beneath the mantle of charity, this “before” issue refers to Françafrique: the neocolonial system of opaque domination over the former French African colonies.

In reality, Macron patently makes this journey in order to renew the old ties. He carefully omits past and present state crimes, sponsoring a whole host of more or less bloodthirsty satraps, some of them being the heirs of dynasties that have been in power for half a century.

From the Biafra War to the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi, to Congo-Brazzaville, the list of the crimes against humanity in La Françafrique is long. How did we come this far?

First of all, France has been a slave-owning colonial power. Throughout the centuries, these predatory practices, at the heart of its institutions, ranked this country among the wealthiest and most arrogant of nations. Severely weakened at the end of World War II, France ended up — under the battering it took from the anti-imperialist resistance armies of Vietnam, Algeria and Cameroun, as well as rising international pressure — granting independence to its sub-Saharan colonies in 1960. As we should have expected, this was only a façade, a “flag independence,” represented by co-opted presidents under the rule of French special advisers. Françafrique’s official storefront? Cooperation. Official cooperation between a new bourgeoisie compradore, denounced by Franz Fanon from the outset, and a politico-military apparatus coordinated from the Presidential Palace by its great intendant, Jacques Foccart.

France’s primary objective is unlimited access to strategic resources, notably oil and uranium. It is worth repeating that, as we write these lines, France, having launched its energetic transition by only an infinitesimal amount, is still heavily dependent on these resources. France will push towards an energetic or agricultural windfall economy, like in the Ivory Coast, a plantation-country. The control exercised over these states will also contribute to a disproportionate diplomatic power, thanks to a client-state parade voting as if they were one voice in favor of the French resolutions in the international forums. “Without Africa, there won’t be any History of France,” as the former minister of the colonies and future President of the Republic François Mitterrand liked to say.

The humanitarian component, the major reason for the French presence on the continent, pursuing a colonial civilizing mission, has had catastrophic results: less than 5% of the Development Public Aid (DPA) has fulfilled the basic needs of the population, the rest being swallowed up by the ogres of corruption or useless and costly projects, maliciously dubbed “white elephants.” The pyromaniac firefighter is not even a good fireman. But in all cases, “cooperation” was a true godsend for the French companies. A number of goals can only be met with tight police and military collaboration, because these regimes will rapidly become despised by their populations. It is possible to count French military interventions by the dozens on a continent that has become, in the words of François-Xavier Verschave, “the French army’s sandpit”. For the theorists of the “plus grande France” [broader France], it is a vital necessity to retain this zone of influence. In terms of the security aspect, the French republic created the Revolutionary War Doctrine (RWD), developed in the 1950s by Colonel Trinquier. A bona fide laboratory of repression inside the French private reserve, south of the Sahara, the RWD was a tighter network than the South American CIA’s backyard. Any resemblance is not purely coincidental, since French generals such as Aussaresses were particularly appreciated advisers, in terms of their counter-insurrection skills. Once their protégés were firmly in power, the omnipresence of intelligence service officers could nip any political contention in the bud. Entire generations of opponents fell under the torture and assassination while recalcitrant presidents (or the ones that became a problem) were overthrown in a coup d’etat. As a reminder, we can cite: Ernest Boka (Ivory Coast), Outel Bono (Chad), Ruben Um Nyobe, Félix Moumié and Ernest Ouandié (Cameroon), Barthélémy Boganda (Central African Republic), Omar Blondin Diop (Senegal), Sylvanus Olympio (Togo), Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso)… And so many other anonymous people.

In the 1990s, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the system entered a second phase, more destructive than ever. This was a paradoxical time: the justification of the regimes’ support to fend off communism had lost its relevance. On the contrary, the USSR, which could have been a counterweight that could support some political movements, completely collapsed. France’s hands were consequently freer than before, even though it had to face the continental tidal wave of civil society demanding the end of the single-party regime and the dawn of democratization. Mitterrand quickly anticipated this, taking note while giving himself considerable means of counter-attack. The French secret war policy proved to be tremendously aggressive outside its bases, in a manner similar to the Biafra support. This comparison is relevant both in terms of the number of victims and poor results: the backup of the Liberian and Sierra-Leonean rebellions, causing devastation throughout this decade of lead. As in Angola, France also placed its pieces in Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish ownership that became an oil emirate and a new member of the French-speaking world in 1989. Meanwhile, the Sovereign national conferences, a veritable democratic agora, were flourishing everywhere on the African francophone sphere. They were to allow some notable evolutions and victories (Benin, Mali). But many other regimes took the carrot-and-stick approach, between corruption and repression, managing to remain in place (Gabon, Togo, Cameroon) or return to power by force of arms (Congo-Brazzaville). France reached rock-bottom with the multifaceted support given by the Elysée to the ultra-racist government before, during and after the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi of Rwanda. This certainly represents the most heinous crime of French cooperation. This premeditated cataclysm was to extend to the entire Great Lakes region, the genocidal apparatus having been displaced to DRC, by way of the military-humanitarian French operation Turquoise. After that, a cohort of journalists successfully tried to misrepresent or minimize the system; the bitter irony was to then see the next presidents, in their speeches, swearing they were finished with it for good.

The decade of the 2000s witnessed the emergence of new economic players, such as China. The French share market, in the continental economy, has dwindled but its sales volumes have increased. Françafrican wars have declined, but the suitcases full of bank notes still circulate and a large number of Francophile presidents remain. Dangerous French military operations under the banner of anti-terrorism are the latest wildcard that paralyses change. While Arab uprisings were threatening to spread inside its private reserve, the arrival of terrorist groups taking advantage of the post-intervention Libyan chaos put leaders like Idriss Deby, once in distress, back in the saddle again. Chad’s president has even become indispensable in the Sahel and Sahara diplomatic game. Since then, French presidents have met with one autocrat or another, “to talk about security issues in the region.”

The Sahara and the Sahel region, almost as vast as the U.S., are at the same time a no-go zone for journalists — making it difficult to understand what is really going on — and a sanctuary for both jihadists and the French military. All of this is happening against the backdrop of access-to-strategic-resources. Groups like Boko Haram are capable of placing no less than four countries on high alert. Finally, it is the majority of Françafrique’s field that is trapped in a security spiral in which the French troops are mastering the art of making themselves, once again, indispensable to the occupation of a territory where the Arab-Muslim and Sub-Saharan worlds (approached differently by colonialism) are melting. It complexifies both the analysis and the inevitable struggle against the Françafrican status quo.

The recent mass demonstrations in Togo, which aimed to force Eyadema’s son to resign, are not enjoying any media exposure. Maybe this is because we would then discover the extent of security cooperation with the neocolonial guardianship. The new French president Emmanuel Macron declared during the presidential campaign that his foreign policy would be placed under the banner of Mitterrand and De Gaulle — the names of the two main presidents of Françafrique. The legitimacy that he has already given to the long-standing valets of French neocolonialism sets the tone of his presidential term.


Map Francafrique
Map by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (2017).