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20 Feb, 2024 08:06

Adieu, colonizer: France’s malign influence still hangs over Africa, and that needs to change

The unity of the continent built on regional integration will help strengthen the economic and political autonomy of its states
Adieu, colonizer: France’s malign influence still hangs over Africa, and that needs to change

France’s historical presence in Africa dates back to the 16th century with the beginning of the exploration and colonization of the continent by Europeans. Over the centuries, France extended its influence in many regions of Africa, establishing colonies and protectorates, and imposing its language, culture, and institutions on local populations.

There are several reasons for France’s presence in Africa. On the one hand, France sought to expand its colonial empire in order to rival other European powers, particularly England and Germany. It was also motivated by economic interests, such as the exploitation of African natural resources, including rubber, ivory, wood, minerals, and later, oil.  Thus, France established colonies in West Africa (Senegal, Ivory Coast, etc.), Central Africa (Congo, Gabon, etc.), and North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, etc.).

These colonies were administered by French governors and populated by French settlers who exploited African lands and resources. However, in the 20th century, national movements began to develop, demanding independence from France and other colonial powers. These claims led to struggles for independence in many African countries, ultimately leading to the decolonization of Africa.

France’s withdrawal from Africa was thus a complex and sometimes tumultuous process. Independence was gradually granted to different African countries during the 1960s and 1970s through negotiated agreements or armed conflicts. However, despite this newly-won independence, France continued to exert significant influence, particularly through economic and military agreements with former colonies. This close link between France and Africa has sometimes sparked controversies and criticism, fueling the debate on France’s presence on the continent.

The post-colonial presence of France in Africa: Worth it or not?

The post-colonial relationship between France and Africa is a complex and controversial subject that sparks numerous debates. After African countries gained independence in the 1960s, France maintained strong ties with its former colonies, particularly through economic agreements.

These links are often seen as asymmetrical, with France benefiting from certain economic and political advantages, while African countries find themselves in a position of dependence. For example, France continues to exert significant political influence in several African countries, sometimes intervening militarily to protect its interests or support regimes favorable to its interests.

A key aspect of this relationship is the maintenance of the CFA franc from 1945, a common currency used by 14 African countries, including 12 former French colonies. The abbreviation CFA first meant ‘Colonies Françaises d’Afrique’ (French colonies of Africa); then stood for ‘Communauté Française d’Afrique’ (Franco–African Community), and since the 1960s, it has stood for ‘Communauté Financière Africaine’ (African Financial Community). This currency is managed by the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) and the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), both based in France. The CFA franc is pegged to the euro, and African countries are required to deposit a portion of their foreign exchange reserves with the French Treasury.

This system has garnered much criticism as it is perceived as a form of economic neo-colonialism. Some argue that the maintenance of the CFA franc limits the monetary autonomy of African countries and prevents them from pursuing their own economic policies. It is also claimed that the system fosters economic dependence on France, particularly by favoring trade with the former colonial power at the expense of other partners.

This asymmetry has had consequences for the economic development of African countries. Some economists argue that the post-colonial relationship with France has hindered industrialization and economic diversification in African countries by keeping them in a position of supplying raw materials for the French economy. This has contributed to perpetuating economic and social inequalities between France and Africa.

Despite these criticisms, some defend the maintenance of the CFA franc, arguing that it provides monetary stability and facilitates trade. They also stress that France continues to provide financial and technical assistance to African countries, particularly through development and cooperation programs. They believe that the relationship between France and Africa can be beneficial if based on mutual respect and equitable cooperation.

French interference in Africa

Since the post-colonial period, France has been accused of excessively intervening in the internal affairs of African countries, calling into question their sovereignty and political stability. One of the main accusations of interference concerns French military interventions in Africa.

France has conducted several military operations on the continent, including in Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Central African Republic. The official objective of these interventions was often to maintain stability and prevent the spread of terrorism, but some view these actions as a form of neo-colonialism.

France’s intervention in Côte d’Ivoire in 2011 is a frequently cited example of this interference. Following the political crisis that erupted after disputed presidential elections, France deployed troops to support pro-Ouattara forces against the forces loyal to the other candidate, Laurent Gbagbo (Alassane Dramane Ouattara is the current president of the country).Although this helped to quickly resolve the crisis, many observers criticized the French intervention, calling it interference in the country’s internal affairs and a violation of its sovereignty.

The French military presence in Africa is also perceived as playing ‘regional policeman’. France maintains permanent military bases in several African countries, including Gabon, Senegal, and Djibouti. Some accuse France of using these bases to exert political and economic influence over the host countries, promoting its own interests rather than those of the local populations.

Furthermore, the French presence in Africa is often criticized for its support of authoritarian regimes. France has long maintained close relationships with certain African leaders, even when they were accused of human rights violations and undemocratic practices. This has led to accusations that France has sacrificed democratic values for its own economic and political interests.

Ultimately, French interference in Africa remains a complex subject. It is important to analyze each situation individually to fully understand the motivations and impacts. 

What prominent Pan-African activists think of France

Pan-Africanism is a political and intellectual movement that promotes the unity and solidarity of African peoples, as well as their liberation from colonialism and oppression. It developed in the 20th century as a response to the injustices suffered by Africans under colonial rule and the marginalization of African peoples in the global order.

The movement, however, is not a singular institutional entity with leaders, formal charter, etc. Instead, it encompasses a wide range of organizations, political parties, think tanks, intellectuals, and activists who share a common vision of African unity and emancipation. There are also Pan-African forums and organizations, such as the African Union and the Pan-African Parliament, which seek to promote these ideals on a continental scale.

The Pan-African movement has left a significant legacy in African and global history. It has contributed to the collective consciousness of Africans regarding their common identity, the defense of their rights, and the fight against neocolonialism. It has also played a crucial role in promoting regional cooperation and integration in Africa.

One of the main ideas and demands of the Pan-African movement has been the withdrawal of colonial powers, including France, from Africa. This desire for independence and sovereignty has been supported by many Pan-African leaders and intellectuals, such as Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, and Cheikh Anta Diop.

Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist and anti-colonial writer, highlighted the detrimental consequences of colonization on the psychology of Africans. According to him, France’s continued presence reinforces the sense of inferiority among African peoples and hinders their psychological and intellectual development.

Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of independent Ghana, emphasized the importance of political autonomy for African economic development. In his view, France’s presence in Africa limits the ability of African countries to make their own political and economic decisions, thus impeding their autonomous development.

Patrice Lumumba, the former prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, denounced France’s economic exploitation of Africa. According to him, France profits from African natural resources at the expense of local populations, thereby perpetuating economic dependence for African countries.

Thomas Sankara, the former president of Burkina Faso, emphasized the need to break free from former colonial powers to allow for true political and economic independence in Africa. He believed that France’s presence is an obstacle to this emancipation and to the construction of a more just and egalitarian society.

Cheikh Anta Diop, a Senegalese historian and anthropologist, stressed the importance of restoring the cultural pride of Africans by liberating themselves from French cultural influence. According to him, France’s presence keeps African countries in a state of cultural subordination, limiting their ability to value their own cultural heritage.

These Pan-African leaders and intellectuals also put forth economic, political, and cultural motives to justify France’s exit from Africa. Economically, they argue that France’s presence limits economic development opportunities for African countries by controlling natural resources and imposing unfair trade agreements.

Politically, they denounce France’s interference in the internal affairs of African countries and the perpetuation of pro-French political regimes that do not serve the interests of local populations. They believe that France’s exit would allow African countries to regain control of their political destiny and establish democratic governments that meet the needs of their populations.

Culturally, they believe that France’s presence keeps African countries in a state of dependence, thereby preventing the valorization and preservation of African cultural heritage. They argue that France’s exit would enable African countries to reclaim their cultural identity and promote their cultural heritage to the rest of the world.

Regarding the potential consequences for the development and emancipation of African countries, they could be varied. Some argue that France’s exit could empower African countries to take control of their own destiny and develop more favorable economic policies for growth and development. It could also encourage greater intra-African cooperation and consolidation of regional institutions. 

How African countries try to reduce French presence

In recent decades, some African countries have taken steps to reduce their dependence on France. These measures aim to strengthen their economic and political autonomy and reduce French influence on their internal affairs.

Benin has developed partnerships with other African countries to enhance regional economic integration, particularly through trade agreements and cross-border infrastructure. This initiative aims to reduce Benin’s dependence on France, its former colonial power.

Rwanda is another example of an African country seeking to reduce its dependence on France. The Rwandan government has adopted a technology and innovation-focused development policy to diversify its economy and reduce reliance on raw material exports. Furthermore, Rwanda has sought to strengthen its ties with other international partners, including by developing economic relationships with countries such as China and the US. This policy aims to reduce French influence on the country’s affairs and enhance its economic autonomy.

However, these initiatives are not without challenges. In many cases, France continues to exert significant economic and political influence over these countries, despite their efforts to diversify their international partnerships. For example, France maintains preferential economic agreements with its former African colonies, limiting the room for these countries to pursue alternative economic policies.

Furthermore, some African countries face structural challenges that hinder their ability to reduce their dependence on France. For instance, many African countries lack adequate infrastructure, which limits their capacity to attract foreign investments and diversify their economies. Demographic pressures, as well as political and social conflicts, also continue to hinder economic development in many African countries.

While some African countries have undertaken initiatives to reduce the French presence and strengthen their economic autonomy, these efforts face numerous challenges. Nevertheless, the emergence of alternative economic and monetary policies, as well as the diversification of international partners, offer opportunities for African countries to enhance their autonomy and reduce their dependence on France.

Strong and united Africa, free from neo-colonial influence

Africa has long been divided and weakened by the neo-colonial influence of foreign powers. These influences have created artificial divisions, arbitrary borders, and economic dependence which have limited opportunities for development and progress on the continent. However, it is important to highlight that the prospects for a strong and united Africa are full of potential and opportunities.

Firstly, the construction of an independent and united Africa would allow for true regional integration. Currently, the African continent is fragmented into numerous countries with different economies, political systems, and cultures. A united Africa would facilitate the free movement of people, goods, and capital across the continent, thus creating a larger market and increased economic opportunities. Regional integration would also foster political stability by enabling countries to peacefully resolve internal conflicts through robust regional institutions.

Furthermore, a united Africa would be able to strengthen economic cooperation. By combining the natural resources, skills, and expertise of different countries, Africa could leverage its immense economic potential. It could specialize in specific areas such as agriculture, manufacturing, or services, and develop regional value chains to enhance its competitiveness in the global market. Economic cooperation would also help reduce dependence on foreign countries for investments and technology, and enable African countries to mutually support each other in their economic development.

Lastly, an independent and united Africa could enhance its political position on the international stage. Unity would make Africa a stronger voice, capable of defending its common interests and actively participating in global decisions. It could play a mediating role in regional conflicts and contribute to addressing global issues such as climate change, poverty, and inequality. A united Africa would also be better positioned to tackle current and future challenges, such as mass migrations, violent conflicts, or health crises.

In conclusion, the prospects of a strong and united Africa are promising. The construction of an independent Africa would enable regional integration, economic cooperation, and political empowerment that would foster the development and progress of the continent. It is time to break free from neo-colonial influence and build a better future for all Africans.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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