State of Africa: France influence on Government in Africaby Jant Nima
After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has been banished returns. There is movement, but it is not brought about by force… The movement is natural, arising spontaneously. For this reason the transformation of the old becomes easy. The old is discarded and the new is introduced. Both measures accord with time; therefore no harm results.
Through greed and a distorted view of the realities of the African continent, France has lost a plethora of good opportunities to bring her former dependencies on the continent to modernity. She simply saw the continent hopelessly through a Machiavellian prism. For that reason, the majority of Africans in her former dependencies see her as the major obstacle to their development.
Part I of this series presented the history of the French colonial empire in Africa and the end of this empire. Before leaving, France splintered her empire into microstates. Her predilection for "hommes forts" to lead these microstates has accentuated Africa's marginalization.
Part II of this series focuses on France's image on the continent. Of interest are France's mishaps and blunders, the recurrent scandals involving French politicians and bureaucrats and their shady deals in Africa, the building of Francophonie as a counterpoint to the Commonwealth, and an assessment of Africa's interests in her relationship with France.
5. AN ABYSMAL IMAGE To say the least, France's image on the continent is extremely bad. This should not come as a surprise to French policy makers, for the degradation of France in the eyes of many Africans is a direct consequence of France's myopic policies during the last five decades. In the sixties, in the heyday of African independence, scores of young Africans left their native countries to study at French universities. They could do this because France made numerous scholarships available to the brightest African students. Some of these students did very well in France in spite of hardships due to cultural differences with the host country. In addition they had to adapt to the new climate which might prove a tall order for somebody coming from the Equator. They showed their intellectual mettle and earned scores of degrees from the most prestigious French institutions of higher learning. But when they were ready to return to their countries of origin they soon felt some misgivings because the same France that allowed them to better their education had given power in their native countries to the "village idiot."
The presence of these African students in so many French universities derived from the philosophy of "assimilation" that dominated French colonial thought. Assimilation posited that French colonies were to be brought into the French nation and taught the French language. It was also a political device to perpetuate French prestige. It was part and parcel of French missionary zeal on the continent. Assimilation extolled hu7man equality and the value of education and was given intellectual legitimacy by giants of French literature such as Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot. Assimilation had one inherently negative side: the civilizing mission assumed a cultural superiority that would lead to excesses.
Picture Patrick Mboum, a fictitious student from Cameroon in Paris in the 1970s. He just completed brilliant studies at the Ecole Centrale de Paris and finds himself in a quandary. A part of him wants him to return to Cameroon to contribute to his country's development. After all, his stay in the French Republic has allowed to get some knowledge in engineering no other Cameroonian possesses and that will certainly be a great asset to his country's economy. Another part of his being categorically refuses to see him back in Douala. This is chiefly due to the fact that he just read "Main basse sur le Cameroun", a strident pamphlet on the economic crimes France was exacting in his native country in concert with successive puppet administrations, written by Mongo Beti, the premier author of Cameroon. Cameroon, he thought, was one of the richest lands in Africa. In the Bamileke, the country has a class of businessmen and women of international reputation. The soil is rich and the rain forest is replete with the rarest plants. The discovery of oil should in theory improve the country's income. However, the Elysees brains had decided to impose an arcane and mysterious style of management whereby all the proceeds of this important resource were diverted into a special account, a "caisse noire" accessible only by the President's office. With an adequate leadership, Cameroon economic performance would be on a par with the performances of the South-East Asian "tigers." Mboum knows a couple of acquaintances and friends that have returned to Cameroon after stellar studies in France. Some have opted to join the decadent regime in place just to satisfy their greed. Others joined the regime because they said they wanted to reform the regime internally. The rest held steadfastly to the ideals they had developed during years of militancy in the "Federation des Etudiants d'Afrique Noire en France", the august organization often credited for great contribution to the independence of France's former colonies. Scores of these former comrades are either dead or languishing in the jails of the unpopular regime. Patrick Mboum weighs his options and finally opts to stay in France thus contributing to a brain drain that is stifling economic growth on our impoverished continent.
It is fair to say that the French state is only interested in African wealth. Another objective of its presence is to derive power and prestige at the expense of the continent. Hence its predilection for dictatorships on what it sees as its turf. If the French state holds the African masses in deep scorn, the masses reciprocate the same feeling towards the former colonial power. Anti-France sentiment runs high in France's former dependencies chiefly because of France's support of dictatorships in these countries.
6. BLAME IT ON JACQUES FOCCART! A friend of mine from Ghana once told me that one of his uncles always feared for his life whenever he had to pay visit to relatives in neighboring Togo. He was terrified by the propensity shown by France's former colonies to jail their citizens on mere whims. Four decades after independence, most of France's former dependencies have failed to create solid institutions to sustain their politics. In lieu of the ideology of inclusion endeared by our tradition, these former colonies have opted for the most part at the urging of the Elysee for dictatorships practicing abysmal politics of exclusion. The end results of these politics are frequent wars and wanton devastation. The post-independence period in most of these countries could be characterized as an era of tyranny and regression.
What Charles de Gaulle had in mind for France after World War II was a community of sovereign states made of France and her former colonies and with a French president in leadership position. That way France's grandeur was restored and maintained. Subsequent events compelled him to grant independence to the colonies but he did this with reluctance and he simply ignored the full meaning of political independence. To accomplish his ideas Charles de Gaulle turned to the secretive Jacques Foccart. He named him in 1958 secretary-general of the French community. In 1960 he commuted his title to "secretary-general in the presidency of the Republic for the community and for African and Malagasy Affairs." Charles de Gaulle and his successor Georges Pompidou delegated all the issues involving French-speaking Africa to Jacques Foccart. Soon no decision about these former dependencies could not be made without Foccart's stamp. He emerged as a kind of proconsul for Francophone Africa. To carry on France's policy Foccart organized the "reseau Foccart," a network of import-export business figures, and shadowy semi-official groups such as the "Service d'Action Civique." The reseau Foccart also extended into French police, military and intelligence agencies.
Foccart's view of the continent was very negative and he threw in position of power men that would reinforce this pessimism. Men of the ilk of Jean-Bedel Bokassa and Moussa Traore were allowed to seize power and maintain it an inordinate amount of time in order to defend "French interests." In Foccart's simplistic view of the continent, men of vision education and charisma were to be eliminated because they represented threats to French interests as defined by the "reseau Foccart." For instance, Sylvanus Olympio, Modibo Keita, and Hamani Diori, former presidents of Togo, Mali, and Niger respectively, were such men and were effectively eliminated.
The ascent of the French socialists to power in May 1981 was a watershed event in French politics. The news was a cause of concern for many African dictators. On the other hand most of the African intellectual elite toasted the event. The African elite expected a political liberalization in Africa, a sort of glasnost as a result of this election. This political liberalization was part of the promises of the Socialists during the electoral campaign. In fairness to the French Socialist party, it should be noted that they did try to promote changes in the Franco-African relations. Jean-Pierre Cot, a former law professor, was then named minister of cooperation. He strove to remove the opacity and secrecy that characterized these relations. However, powerful voices within the French Establishment rose against these changes and earned the support of Francois Mitterrand. Cot left the government a few months later and returned to the Law Faculty of the University of Paris.
After the departure of Jean Pierre Cot, Francois Mitterrand named his own son, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand as his personal adviser on African affairs. It was soon business as usual. The opacity that characterized France's relationships with her former dependencies in Africa returned with a vengeance.
7. SHADY DEALS AND SCANDALS Let us face it: bureaucracies do not generate wealth. Bureaucrats tend to wield a lot of power but are usually prevented in transparent democratic systems from converting their power into lucrative dealings. France maintains itself as a world power thanks to an educated labor pool, a vibrant press, an excellent public school system. The politic class seems the weakest link of the French polity. This polity is dominated by alumni of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (National School of Administration), a school created in 1945 by the Provisional Government of the French Republic led by de Gaulle. The school owed its creation to satisfy a need for specific and complementary training for government officials. The success of the school has been formidable: more than 4 percent of students overall have held elective office. Two of the five presidents of the Fifth Republic (Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac) have been students of the ENA. Six of the 14 Prime Ministers of the Fifth Republic (Jacques Chirac - twice, Laurent Fabius, Michel Rocard, Edouard Balladur. Alain Juppe, et Lionel Jospin). Bringing together all future government administrators into one school definitely brought coherence to the senior civil service. Nevertheless, this idea created a sclerosis at the highest level of governance in France. There have been many unsuccessful attempts to reform the ENA. These attempts failed because so many of the alumni are part the nation's power structure.
In France, a strong and independent judiciary system usually serves as a deterrent against excesses and abuses of the country's bureaucrats. However, in the murky systems erected as methods of government in the French former colonies the same French bureaucrat may have free reins to indulge in influence peddling. And his rewards may be enough to purchase a castle in his native country. Whereas in France institutions strive to maintain checks and balances, in the former colonies the destinies of millions of people are in the hands of a few unqualified individuals. The list of scandals involving French "hauts fonctionnaires" and African regimes is long.
Last year, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand spent Christmas in a Parisian jail on suspicion of helping illegal arms sales to Angola. He admitted receiving $1.8 million dollars which was paid in a Swiss band account for helping to organize arms sales in 1993 and 1994, in a deal worth $500 million dollars according to some reports. The investigators suspected Mr. Mitterrand, known by the nickname "Papa-m'a-dit" (Daddy told me) of acting as an intermediary for amrms deals with African heads of state, by using relationships developed when he was his father's special adviser of African affairs.
This Spring former French Interior minister, Charles Pasqua, was placed under formal investigation over allegations that he used illegal funds to finance an election campaign. Pasqua is reputed to have his own "reseau" in Francophone Africa. He was already under investigation for the arms deal with Angola mentioned above.
This spring, the presidents of the Congo-Brazzaville, Chad and Gabon sued in a Parisian court Francois-Xavier Vershave, the author of Noir Silence (Black Silence) under a 19th century French press law making it a crime to offend a foreign head of state. In Noir Silence, the author accused these heads of state of corruption, drug traffic and genocide and exposed the support these heads of state benefited from successive French administrations. The author won the case.
The Elf inquiry this year showed the French Establishment at its worst. The wide-ranging investigation unearthed scandals such as illegal arms sales to Taiwan and illicit funding to Germany's Christian Democratic Party. The inquiry resulted in the sentencing of Roland Dumas, a former foreign affairs minister to six months in jail. His lover, Christine Deviers-Joncour, was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Elf's boss, Loik Le Floch-Prigent was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail. And finally, Alfred Sirven, the initiator of the deals was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Elf is one of the most important oil companies in the world. Its business extends to more than 100 countries. It is corporate giant that does not refrain from using treachery and political intrigue to preserve its interests in Africa. In Noir Silence Francois-Xavier Vershave reports the company has participated in numerous crimes including mass murders during the recent civil war in Congo-Brazzaville.
8. FAILED SOCIETIES At the onset of the 21st century, it is fair to say that the political balkanization of the French colonial empire in Africa created a string of failed societies. Four decades after independence, the microstates that resulted from this balkanization remain economic oddities with, for the most part, a per capita income of less or a little more than one US dollar per day. Table 1 lists the performances of these states in the UN Human Development Report of the year 1999.
Human Dev. Index
Gross National Product
Gross Nat. Product per cap.
Average Inflation Rate
154 Cote d'Ivoire
165 Central African
171 Burkina Faso
Table 1 Economic Performance
Human Dev. Index
Popluation (millions) 1997
Population (millions) 2015
Pop. Growth Rate
154 Cote d'Ivoire
165 Central African Rep.
Table 2 Demographic Trends
Human Dev. Index
Adult Literacy Rate (97)
Primary School Enrol.
Tertiary School Enrol.
154 Cote d'Ivoire
165 Central African Rep.
171 Burkina Faso
Table 3 Educational Trends
More than anything these figures are excellent indicators of the human tragedies that are the lot of most of Africans living in these former dependencies of France. These countries are wallowing up in abject poverty for the most part. According to these figures only Gabon managed in 1997 to secure a relatively decent score in the Human Development Index category. However, Gabon has a minuscule population so its wealth does not help the overall picture. Furthermore, the distribution of this wealth inside lends itself to much criticism and Elf-Gabon's practices have much to do with this state of affairs.
Whatever happened to the "Ivorian miracle?" Cote d'Ivoire position in the Human Development Index behind Cameroon, Congo and Togo comes as a big surprise. During Houphouet Boigny's rule the country used to be touted by France as a showpiece in West Africa, a success story in a sea of misery. Of late the country has been wrestling with instability and the scourge of xenophobia.
It is worth noting that unlike Great Britain who worked hard to preserve the unity of Nigeria in the post-independence period, France opted to dismember the AOF (Afrique Occidentale Francaise) and the AEF (Afrique Equatoriale Francaise) into hardly viable microstates. Yet France decided to maintain very close ties to these former dependencies through what is generally referred to as cooperation accords. These accords usually include a full range of diplomatic, defense, economic, monetary, financial, commercial, and technical assistance agreements. No matter how one looks at these accords, one cannot refrain from deeming them neo-colonialist. These accords serve as pedestal from French interests in Africa. The core of these interests in one word is trade surplus. Africa accounts for 20 percent of France's trade surplus. It remains France's third largest foreign market outside the European Union with French exports to the continent totalling 20 billion US dollars in 1997. Trade balances have always favored France. In recent years transfers from Gabon alone have surpassed $1 billion a year. ( France's responsibility in the failure of these societies)
9. LA FRANCOPHONIE: FOR AFRICA A WASTE OF TIME AND ENERGY La Francophonie or the Francophone Movement is an organization which wants to promote French civilization all over the world. But this organization suffers from a stigma: its image. It is difficult for us to take this organization seriously if the ex-metropole, France, is collapsing under recurring scandals at the highest level of state. Unlike the Commonwealth which tries to promote good governance within its members, La Francophonie is perceived as a bunch of dictatorships some more violent than the others. Amnesty International has of late accused 32 of the 52 members of La Francophonie of human rights abuses. Besides that, the intellectual elite of the former French empire in Africa must come to terms with the language of Voltaire and Descartes. Does French matter in the age of globalization? Experts estimate that only 105 million out of the world's 6 billion people can claim French as their first language. Of course, half of these people live in France. The rest is scattered around the globe. This is why some of the African elite sees La Francophonie as a mere exercise in futility, a waste of time and energy.
10. CONCLUSION Speaking about Africa in his seminal book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order", Samuel P. Huntington states:
The ability of any potential core state to provide leadership to sub-Saharan Africa is limited by its division into French- speaking and English-speaking countries. For a while Cote d'Ivoire was the core state of French-speaking Africa. In considerable measure, however, the core-state of French- Africa has been France, which after independence maintained intimate economic, military, and political connections with its former colonies. The two African countries that are most qualified to become core states are both English-speaking. Size, resources, and location make Nigeria a potential core State, but its intercivilizational disunity, massive corruption, political instability, repressive government, and economic problems have severely limited its ability to perform this role, although it has done so on occasion. South Africa's peaceful and negotiated transition from apartheid, its industrial strength, its higher level of economic development compared to other African countries, its military capability, its natural resources, and its sophisticated black and white leadership all mark South Africa as clearly the leader of southern Africa, probably the leader of English Africa and possibly the leader of all sub-Saharan Africa.
Good things will befall Africa in the twenty-first century if she learns to focus on her interests. She must in this century transcend the vestiges of her colonial past. "English Africa", "French Africa" and other realities or spheres of influence deriving from alien paradigms must fade into oblivion and give way to a united Africa that knows and defends her interests. There is no need for the exaltation of one colonial power over the other. The African Union is clearly "the best game in town" for the continent.
France's policy in Africa has generated a plethora of criticism over the world. The current socialist government led by Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has stated on many occasions that France intends to adapt her cooperation with her former dependencies to new realities on the continent. To do away with the secrecy that characterized this cooperation, the ministry of cooperation has been absorbed by the foreign ministry. Furthermore, the CFA franc tied to the French franc at a guaranteed rate since the 1940s, has been pegged to the Euro. The French Treasury still provides the guarantee but changes cannot occur without the approval of the European Central Bank. Overall, there is a new awareness in French political circles that Africa can no longer be treated as the president's special turf. But skeptics are legion because most of the bilateral accords between France and her former colonies are still currency. And of these former colonies only Benin, Mali and Senegal seem resolute on the path of democracy and the rule of law. But beyond the French exactions and the prevalence of supine regimes real changes will only occur in this corner of the world when the African masses decide to transcend the status quo. Although still timid, the spread of the democratic culture should in principle embolden the intellectual to get out of its current torpor in order to these societies to a new overdue golden age.
REFERENCES 1. Nima, Jant. Legacy Magazine, "France and Africa: The Lost Opportunities", Part I, 2001. 2. Manley, Andrew. BBC News, "World: Africa - Chirac's visit marks French policy shift", July 19, 1999. 3. Astier, Henri. BBC News, "World: Africa - France and the US: The scramble for Africa", March 23, 1998. 4. Carter, Lee. BBC News, "World Africa - Francophone leaders in human rights row", September 3, 1999. 5. Beti, Mongo. "La France contre l'Afrique"(Paris: Editions La Decouverte, 1993). 6. Smith, Stephen - Glaser, Antoine. "Ces Messieurs Afrique" (Paris: Editions Calmann-Levy, 1992). 7. Vershave, Francois-Xavier. "Noir Silence: Qui arretera la Francafrique?" (Paris: Editions des Arenes, 2000). 8. Lewis, David Levering. "The Race to Fashoda" (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988). 9. Murphy, E. Jefferson. "History of African Civilization" (New York, Dell Publishing, 1972). 10. Huntington, Samuel P. "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996)