A NEW CHAPTER IN FRANCO-AFRICAN RELATIONS?
Written By Antun Katalenić
“The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history. The African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time, rhythmed with the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words. In this imaginary world where everything starts over and over again there is no place for human adventure or for the idea of progress. In this universe where nature commands all, man escapes from the anguish of history that torments modern man, but he rests immobile in the centre of a static order where everything seems to have been written beforehand. This man never launched himself towards the future. The idea never came to him to get out of this repetition and to invent his own destiny.”
The quote above belongs to Nicolas Sarkozy. The former French president gave, the now infamous, ‘African man’ speech a decade ago in Dakar, Senegal.
François Hollande who took office 5 years later went to the same city to fix Sarkozy’s rhetorical flaws. During his inaguaral Africa speech, Hollande promised to end France’s neocolonial policy known as Françafrique. He did little to deliver on this promise.
Françafrique is a portmanteau of France and Afrique. Initially used to signify friendly relations between France and its former colonies, the term took on a much darker meaning as the former colonial power used its influence, finances and military might to back Paris-friendly governments while using the same means to remove any government that they deemed a threat to the status quo. Françafrique has since taken on a much kinder face however there is no denying that it remains in place. For all the nice things Hollande had said as president of France, the fact remains that during his 5 years in office, France’s military intervened in Mali and the Central African Republic.
Hollande was replaced on the Champs-Élysées last year by his younger centrist ally-turned-foe, Emmanuel Macron. Come November it was time for him to deliver his Africa sppech. Unlike the pair before him, he decided to speak in front of Burkinabè students at the University of Ouagadougou.
“They told me this is a Marxist, Pan-African hall and I thought, this is the place where I should go and give my speech.”
“I did not come here to tell what France’s Africa policy will be like because there is no France’s Africa policy anymore.”
In order to appeal to his young crowd, Macron paid tribute to Thomas ‘African Che’ Sankara. The latter was removed from his post of president of Burkina Faso by Blaise Compaoré, a dear friend of France and her favourite West African ally, Côte d’Ivoire. Compaoré’s 27-year rule ended only three years ago, however Burkina Faso remains true to the IMF approved, market-friendly policies that the late Sankara attempted to abolish.
During his presidential campaign Macron signified an actual change in France’s policies when he called France’s colonial rule in Algeria a crime but that is as far as he had been willing to go. More than actual condemnation of the crimes committed, Macron uses this kind of rhetoric, along with the names of Sankara and Nelson Mandela, as a rallying call to leave the past behind and focus on the future. After all, he is a part of la nouvelle génération, as he has pointed out numerous times.
Following his 90-minute Ouagadougou speech, Macron requested questions from the audience. The questions posed by a rowdy student crowd very much centred around two of France’s neocolonial tools – its military presence in Africa & the former colonies’ financial dependency on France.
In Macron’s opinion, France’s military presence does not constitute neocolonialism as they are there with the blessing of regional partners. When confronted by a student who asked him how come France has more troops in Africa than there are African students in France on scholarships, Macron angrily responded that she should be thankful to the thousands of Frenchmen who come to the Sahel region, risking their lives fighting for her and her family’s safety and freedom, before calling the auditorium to applause their courage.
Emmanuel Macron is doubling down on Hollande’s military policies with promising even a greater military presence and extra aid for the G5 Sahel military alliance. The alliance’s members – Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mali – are all former members of the Afrique occidentale française colonial-era federation. Macron has repeatedly called on the West and its allies to financially support this cooperation. So far with limited success.
Macron responded in a similar fashion when a couple of students voiced their disapproval of their country’s monetary policy.
Burkina Faso, like 14 other African states, is a member of the CFA franc zone. The CFA franc is a currency used in former French colonies in West and Central Africa. The system was set up in 1945 with a decree by the first president of the French Cinquième République, Charles de Gaulle.
Most countries that divorced France on friendly terms chose to keep this currency even post-independence. As part of the deal, CFA franc countries have to deposit 50 per cent of their foreign exchange reserves in a special French Treasury account. Le Trésor public in turn acts as a guarantee for the currency that is pegged to the euro. This is in fact the strongest argument for the CFA franc as it has kept countries’ monetary policy fairly intact despite prolonged periods of crises and wars. On the other hand, it is a clear neocolonial tool which keeps the states dependent on France. After all, the percentage mentioned beforehand was as high as 65 percent only a decade ago and actually stood at 100 percent in the years following the decolonization of West and Central Africa.
Macron brushes off these arguments in a typical patronising manner.
“No one is forced to be a part of the CFA franc system. If the president of Burkina Faso decides that he no longer wants to be part of the CFA franc zone, he can leave tomorrow.”
With the same neoliberal inspired attitude in which he called anti-austerity protesters on the streets of Paris last lazy, cynics and extremists, Macron ignores France’s responsibility to its former colonies. The line of thinking is somewhere along the lines of ~ France was a colonial power but that is no longer the case. So why are all these Africans still upset at us and keep going on about the past?
The workers back home get the same treatment ~ If you have failed in life, it’s your fault. We are all equal. Focusing on the past or questioning the economic system is counterproductive.
Furthermore, even the solutions Macron suggests are the same: entrepreneurship, mobility, innovation and numerous other phrases from the plethora of buzzwords that have become so ubiquitous in present times.
A version of this article was first published on Radio Študent.
Cover photo credit: Abd Rabbo Ammar/EPA