Why do you think countries want independence?

France and Africa: cutting the cord in slow motion

Freedom, relief, hope - these are probably the feelings of millions of Africans when the French colonial regime on the continent ended 60 years ago. Nine French colonies gained independence in August 1960 alone, 14 there were in the entire year: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Madagascar, Mauritania, Gabon and the Central African Republic.

In 1830 France was the first country to occupy Algeria, followed by the Sahel zone and large parts of West and Central Africa. It would be many years before the chains of colonialism were broken, millions of Africans suffered and died under the hand of France. It was not until 1946 that France founded the Union française, which at least allowed the African territories to send political representatives to the Assemblée nationale - but without speaking of sovereignty. Resistance to France grew in many areas. Guinea gained independence in October 1958, the first of the African territories in France.

No freedom, no independence

"60 years later, the francophone countries in Africa still do not have true independence and freedom from France," says Nathalie Yamb, advisor to the Freedom and Democracy Party for the Republic of the Ivory Coast (LIDER). It starts with the school books, the content of which is often still determined in France.

French colonialists in what is now the Malian desert city of Timbuktu in 1894

For one thing, many of these countries still have a state system introduced by France. "Shortly before independence became a reality in 1960, France decided to abolish the parliamentary system in some countries such as Ivory Coast and to prepare a presidential regime in which all territories and powers are in the hands of the head of state," Yamb told DW. The idea behind it: "In order to keep the countries in hand, only one person who has all powers has to be manipulated."

Françafrique, as the French influence in the former colonies is called, remains - and especially among the youth, resentment against the former colonial power is growing. Since the 1980s, numerous presidential candidates have promised to turn away from Françafrique.

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    Author: Rayna Breuer


But the promise of a new beginning between France and the Francophone countries of Africa is now nothing more than a ritual, said Ian Taylor, Professor of African Politics at St. Andrews University in Scotland. "You talk about change, but soon after taking office the French presidents realize that the economic and political interest in Africa is too strong and that there is no real interest in change on either side."

Resources, Control and Military

But why do neither Africa's elites nor France seem to want to break away from Françafrique? According to Paul Melly, advisor on the Africa program of the British think tank Chatham House, it fails because of the private interests of the elites. In 1962, French President Charles de Gaulle commissioned his advisor Jacques Foccart to set up Françafrique. "Foccart built a network of personal contacts between the French leadership and the elites of the former French colonies," said Paul Melly in an interview with DW. "They were often very personal connections, but they also had a non-transparent, very paternalistic, very controlling character."

Foccart created contracts with the rulers of the countries that are still valid today: In exchange for military protection against coup attempts and for commissions running into the millions, African countries guaranteed French companies access to strategic resources such as diamonds, ores, uranium as well as gas and oil deposits. Today France has a solid presence on the continent - with 1,100 corporations, a good 2,100 subsidiaries and the third largest investment portfolio after Great Britain and the United States.

The colonial pact also guarantees France the right of first refusal to all natural resources and privileged access to government contracts.

A business district in Duala, Cameroon at the time of independence from France in 1960

France is currently leading the Barkhane military operation against Islamist groups in the Sahel region. 5100 soldiers from different countries are involved (as of February 2020). The New York Times reported that in 2007 almost half of the 12,000 French peacekeepers were sent to Africa. These troops had both military and advisory capabilities - and support and stabilize the regimes of the respective countries.

Françafrique becomes Afrique-France?

All of this is more than frustrating, said Yamb. "The presidents of these African countries would rather continue to serve France than put the interests of their people first. It is the youth of Africa who demand true independence and who want to break this insane, unhealthy relationship with France."

Caroline Roussy, research fellow at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in France (IRIS), has objections. "Independence is not complete, but we cannot compare it to the 1960s. France and President Emmanuel Macron have tried to change the pattern and the paradigm and said we are starting a new story between France and Africa, we are ending Françafrique. "

France is involved in Operation Barkhane in Africa's Sahel

Proof of this should be the "Afrique-France" summit of the French and all African governments, which was postponed due to COVID-19. Together, projects and solutions are to be sought in order to build sustainable cities and regions in Africa and to cope with the challenges of massive urbanization that is expected in Africa over the next few decades.

Macron's Africa Accents

But Nathalie Yamb considers the initiative to be a play on words. "Françafrique, Afrique-France - you can play with words, but that doesn't change the system." In her opinion, the relationship between France and the French-speaking African countries continued to deteriorate under Macron. "I even consider Emmanuel Macron to be one of the worst presidents. He behaves like de Gaulle and does not hide his will to maintain this relationship between Africa and France by force."

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But Caroline Roussy emphasizes: "When Macron came into office, I think he made a few mistakes, for example when he convened the presidents of the G5 Sahel instead of visiting them. But he also did a lot of things." So he put the Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo at the head of the International Organization of Francophonie and promised to return most of the African artifacts stored in French museums.

Africa first?

"If France loses Africa, France is nothing," said Yamb. "Macron is trying to force a relationship on Africa that Africans no longer want."

One example of this is the Eco, the new West African single currency, which is to replace the so-called Franc-CFA. "The Eco is a very old Ecowas project. France decided to hijack the name of the Ecowas project. They say they are changing the system but they are just changing the name," Yamb said. "It has to be an initiative of an African government. It cannot be announced, drafted or planned from France."

Criticism of the Franc-CFA, which was introduced in the ex-colonies with the colonial pact, is also growing in Europe

The Franc-CFA is linked to the euro - which makes an independent monetary policy impossible. In addition, these African countries pay up to 65 percent of their foreign exchange reserves into the French treasury. "It sounds unbelievable, but the African governments don't know how much money in the treasury belongs to each country," said Taylor. He accuses France of redeclaring African money as development aid for the original contributors and thus projecting its power in the region. After all, transfers from Africa to France end with the Eco; its value will continue to be linked to the euro.

"The CFA has to go, it is a ridiculous neo-colonial prank by the French that should have disappeared 60 years ago. The first step towards the true independence of the francophone countries in Africa is to bury the CFA. And with it Françafrique", summarizes political scientist Taylor together. What the francophone countries need 60 years after their independence are African elites who are ready to put Africa first.

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