The annual France-Africa Summit has come and gone (31 May – June 1), and in a year where Africa is in clear view of the world, with the World Cup in South Africa, but mostly with many states celebrating 50 years of independence, has the much talked about, France-Africa relationship (Françafrique) really been put to bed as the Nicholas Sarkozy government stated 3 years ago?
A term coined by the former Côte d’Ivoire president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny as wanting to keep strong ties with former colonial master France in all spheres such as economic and political, it was a means of allowing France to give their former colonies in exchange for maintaining a strong influence over the newly independent states. The forms of influence were in economic ties, making former colonies (14 Francophone countries) use the Communauté Financière Africaine (CFA) that tied all economic activity to France, political ties through the stationing of French troops in former colonies to protect the political elite but also secure the raw materials that France needed for their consumption. These ties were a precondition to independence granted by Charles De Gaulle.
This link however has not been beneficial to the former African states. French political elites have always had a remote access to power in former colonies, and this has meant they have supported leaders that maintained the status-quo, illustrated by the extraordinary longevity of leaders in the region ( Félix Houphouët-Boigny was president from 1960-1993, Togo’s Gnassingbé Eyadema president from 1967-2005, Gabon’s Omar Bongo was president from 1967-2009.). The democratic record of former French colonies is questionable, precisely because of the relationships with Paris. There is the story of Omar Bongo warning the French on not interfering with politics in Gabon, or else, seeing as he had state secrets of France following his long time in collaboration with French presidents.
France à fric
As can be expected, the Françafrique relationship has given rise to France-á-fric (France quick cash), explained by late economist François-Xavier Verschave, on the corruption, kick backs, and secret service missions in Africa by the French establishment. Numerous scandals testify to this, oil giant Elf had many of it’s top brass jailed for the buying off of support from politicians both in France and Africa. The Angola-gate/Mitterand-Pasqua affair over the sale of illegal firearms to Angola is another example of the deep rooted relationship of France and African leaders for control of resources and financing.
New Africa-France Relationship
The Sarkozy government upon coming into power stated they would ‘sign the death certificate of Françafrique’, but this was shown to be folly, the minister who announced that ideal, Jean-Marie Bockel lost his brief on the orders of Omar Bongo. Since then, they have not come down hard on leaders of the latest coups in West Africa, namely Guinea and Niger (both have key resources France needs such as aluminium and uranium) and invited them to the France-Africa Summit despite the African Union rejecting these governments, shown they have a preference for Omar Bongo’s son the take over his father.
The Sarkozy government had the themes of World Governance, Peace and Security, Climate Change and Development as key agenda for the summit, however Sarkozy is on record for the maintenance of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, of which France uses €40billion a year, a policy that keeps African agriculture uncompetitive internationally. The French have also begun to make big overtures in reciprocal cooperation between businesses in Africa and France, the cynics will point to the emergence and genuine threat from the BRIC’s that will begin to undercut France in Africa in the coming decades. Key issues like this need to be addressed if the relationship between France and Africa is to be genuine and long lasting.