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Longer, analytical article.  France and Francophone Africa

Summary & Comment: Through these keen insights from inside La Francophonie, Torou, an experienced former Chadian diplomat at the UN, and current pedagogue in Toronto, gives an overview of how French methods of domination and control changed at independence time in the early 60's, and continue in more subtle ways up to today. Headings are: 1. Historical background 2. Control though secret accords 3. Control through monetary co-operation 4. Control through economic exploitation 5. Control through Cultural institutions: 6. Control through military interventions . 7. Has French policy changed? "One could wish that relationships and dealings would become less controling and paternal and more `free, equal and brotherly', for the betterment of the lives of African people. But most Africans of the ruling bourgeoisies find it in their own best interest - economic, military, and political - to maintain good and profitable relations with French politicians, soldiers, and bureacrats." JK For French translation www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=19700

Author: Darnace Torou Date Written: 13 December 2008
Primary Category: Africa General Document Origin: Africafiles
Secondary Category: Western Region Source URL: http://www.africafiles.org/
Key Words: Africa, Francophone, France, history, neo-colonialism, natural resources, military

African Charter Article #19: All peoples shall be equal in respect and rights without domination by others. (Click for full text...)



Printable Version
France and Francophone Africa - relationships of control

www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=19633

1. Historical background:  

Francophone Africa is made up of the former:

- French Equatorial Africa:  Gabon, Moyen-Congo (now Congo-Brazzaville), l'Oubangui-Chari (Central African Republic) and Chad. The capital was Brazzaville. 

- French Western Africa: set up as a Federation in 1895 and composed of Sénégal, Mauritania, French Sudan (known now as Mali), Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), French Guinea, Niger, Côte d'Ivoire, Dahomey (now Benin). The capital was Dakar.  

The Communauté was created by the draft Constitution initiated by General Charles de Gaulle in 1958, as he was facing the rebellion in Algeria.  

Françafrique is another formula used when referring to France's relationship with Africa. It was first used by president of the Côte d'Ivoire Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who appears to have a positive sense, with regards to the good relations between France and Africa. It was subsequently borrowed by François-Xavier Verschave as the title of his criticism of French policies in Africa: “La Françafrique, le plus long scandale de la République”.  

French policy in Africa has always comprised three elements; linguistic and cultural; geo-strategic; and economic. These might also be called “tools” to be used for the ongoing exploitation of France’s African territories.  

2. Control through secret accords

Creating a veritable legal jungle allowing France to control and intervene `as needed', these have been framed under different categories such as

-         Military cooperation
-         Technical Assistance
-         Cultural cooperation  

France has defense cooperation agreements with several former colonies under which its forces provide varying degrees of military assistance. "The drafting of these (defense) agreements is obsolete and it is no longer conceivable, for example, that the French army should be dragged into internal conflicts," President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday 28 February 2008 in a move that could scale back France's military support for some of its closest allies.  

What about these agreements?

The Report of the International Commission of Enquiry on the allegations of violations of human rights in Cote d’Ivoire, gives an idea:  according to Annex II of the Defense Agreement signed between the governments of the French Republic, the Republic of Ivory Coast, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger on 24 April 1961, France has priority in the acquisition of those "raw materials classified as strategic.” In fact, according to article 2 of the agreement, "the French Republic regularly informs the Republic of Ivory Coast(...) of the policy that it intends to follow concerning strategic raw materials and products, taking into account the general needs of defense, the evolution of resources and the situation of the world market.”  

According to article 3, "the Republic of Ivory Coast (and the other two) informs the French Republic of the policy they intend to follow concerning strategic raw materials and products and the measures that they propose to take to implement this policy.” And to conclude, article 5: "Concerning these same products, the Republic of Ivory Coast (and the two others) for defense needs, reserve them in priority for sale to the French Republic, after having satisfied the needs of internal consumption, and they will import what they need in priority from it.” The reciprocity between the signatories, need we point out, is rendered false by the inequality of the actual relations of domination by the colonial power that had, in the case of these countries, organized "independence" a few months previously (in August 1960).  

The accords were made between the French Presidency and the Presidencies of the various ex-colonies. Thus they were in no way democratic or under the control of parliaments or assemblies.  So many interventions were made specifically to `rescue’ an African President or to re-install him later, or to put a new one in place – chosen usually by France which retained the right of full power when needed in emergency.  

Seven African countries still maintain the legal framework defined between 1959 and 1961:

-         Special defense agreement with Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire (plus a convention regarding peace keeping), Gabon (plus a convention allowing France to maintain law and order), Senegal, Chad (special convention to maintain law and order) and Togo (secret defense agreement). The intent, initially, seems to help newly independent countries to build their national armies; but, at the same time, these agreements just helped to keep these countries under France control.

Maurice Robert, former head of the Africa division in the French intelligence and later Ambassador in Gabon from 1979 to 1981 wrote in 2004 in his Memoirs “Ministre” de l’Afrique that “our mission  is to prevent on one hand  subversion and communist penetration in Guinea’s neighboring countries  such as Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal, and on the other hand to make sure that the Americans are not getting in our backyard”. He explains the many attempts to destabilize Guinea Conakry, the French intervention in Gabon in 1964 to restore Leon Mba, the role played by Bob Denard operating for the French government in many conflicts (Katanga, Biafra).  

Gabon seems to play the central role in the “Françafrique”. Pierre Joxe, former socialist defense and interior minister under Mitterrand revealed in his book “Pourquoi Mitterrand” (2006) that the French Air Force based in Gabon had to be on maximum alert 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, in order to extricate president Bongo any time if needed”  

In many African capitals, there are tunnels linking the presidential palace to the French Embassy. President Gbagbo closed down the Abidjan tunnel during the civil war in Ivory Coast.  

These examples just give a picture of the types of relationship between France and her “ex-colonies” or “neo-colonies”.  

In other words, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (the more it changes, the more it remains the same)  

3. Control through monetary cooperation:  

Between 1945 and 1958, CFA stood for Colonies françaises d'Afrique ("French colonies of Africa"); then for Communauté française d'Afrique ("French community of Africa") between 1958 (establishment of the French Fifth Republic) and the independence of these African countries at the beginning of the 1960s. Since the time of their independence, CFA can have two meanings.  

According to Pr. Koulibaly, Speaker of the Ivorian National Assembly and Professor of Economics,  

“The principals of monetary cooperation between France and the member states of the CFA zone were formulated in the 1960s in a colonial pact which was reviewed in the monetary cooperation convention of 23 November 1972 between the member states of the Banque des Etats de l'Afrique Centrale (BEAC) (Bank of Central African States) and the French Republic on one hand, as well as in the cooperation agreement of 4 December 1973 between the member states of the Union Monétaire Ouest-Africaine (UMOA) (or the Monetary Union of West African States) and the French Republic on the other hand. Just before France conceded to African demands for independence in the 1960s, it carefully organised its former colonies in a system of compulsory solidarity which consisted of obliging the African states to put 65% of their foreign currency reserves into the French Treasury, based on the convertibility, at a rigid exchange rate of the CFA - a currency France had created for them”.  This surely represents a powerful means of economic control.  

see also www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=16629 - How France lives off the CFA franc.

4. Control through economic exploitation   

Elf (now Totalfina) is an excellent example of how business corporations combine economic exploitation  of resources and trade with functions of millitary intelligence, even military activity. Elf was created by General de Gaulle in 1965, as part of his policy of national independence. This policy had two purposes.

On one hand, military independence which pre-supposed the possession of the atomic bomb and an independent industry for national defense. On the other hand, an independent control of the main sources of energy, uranium and oil. Actually, the access to oil was not the only task which was assigned to Elf. Through intelligence, corruption and close association to the intelligence services, it was to be used as a covert tool for maintaining in many ways the French presence in Africa. In addition, it was to be one of the main sources for the financing of the Gaullist movement.

Elf was closely associated to the French intelligence service, the SDCE which was later transformed to DGSE under François Mitterrand. Its first president, Pierre Guillaumat, an expert in energy matters (Ecole des Mines, former head of Commisariat à l’Energie Atomique), was an historic Gaullist militant and was one of the founders of the intelligence service which had given birth to the French intelligence service known  as SDCE (Service de Documentation et de Contre Espionnage)

Like all the oil companies, Elf had created departments of security and intelligence. The links with the African branch of the SDCE were very close. Colonel Robert, formerly in charge of Africa in the SDECE was later, recruited by Elf as the head of its own security service. This movement between the higher levels of the SDCE and Elf has been constant. While there were tensions between both organizations and the SDCE could occasionally complain about the autonomy of Elf, Elf could be a precious tool for the SDECE.

In the case of Elf, the picture gets more complicated, since both the SDECE and Elf were closely monitored by Jacques Foccart, a very close collaborator of General de Gaulle. During the presidencies of De Gaulle and of Pompidou, Jacques Foccart was extremely influential, trusted as he was by the presidents, and the overlapping responsibilities he assumed.

5. Control through Cultural institutions: 

French freemasons continue to take an interest in Africa, forming a network of loyalty and trust to undergird political and economic exploitation of Africa. Under the Fifth Republic, at least two freemasons were in charge of the ministry for cooperation, the Socialist Christian, Nucci of the Grand Orient and the Gaullist, Jacques Godfrain of the Grand Lodge of France (4). Guy Penne, adviser on African affairs to François Mitterrand during his term as president between 1981-86, was a member of the Grand Orient. And Ambassador Fernand Wibaux, President Chirac’s personal adviser on African affairs (along with the late Jacques Foccart), is an initiate of that chapter.  

According to l’Express 17/04/2008 in an article by Vincent Hugeux, with François Koch, the following among today’s leaders are Free Masons:

Omar Bongo Ondimba (Gabon). Denis Sassou Nguesso (Congo-Brazzaville). Idriss Déby Itno (Tchad). François Bozizé (République centrafricaine). Blaise Compaoré (Burkina Faso) and his Godfather his minister of Foreign Affairs, Djibril Bassolé. Amadou Toumani Touré (Mali). Mamadou Tandja (Niger). Thomas Yayi Boni (Bénin). Paul Biya (Cameroun).  

French language, French citizenship, French culture were and are strong tools used to attract and bind the people of the `colonies' to the `motherland'. Institutions like l'Alliance Francaise serve this purpose.

6. Control through military interventions 

Since launching an assault on Gabon in 1964, Paris has militarily intervened on the African continent an average of once a year — 35 times in 34 years. Here are some of the main ones:  

Assassination of Sylvanius Olympio in Togo (1963) In February 1964 Léon M'Ba was deposed by a coup d'etat.  But on February 19, 1964, French parachuters reinstated the deposed president, Léon M'Ba, by force.  Bongo was appointed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then to the cabinet of Léon M'Ba.  Very quickly, Bongo became close to the lord of the French neo-colonies Jacques Foccart, while President Charles de Gaulle described him as a “stand up guy.” Intervention in Chad (1968-1972) Coup d’Etat in Niger (1974): President Hamani Diori had decided to increased the price of uranium Intervention in Shaba (1977) Coup d’etat in Central Africa Republic in 1966 (Bokassa versus Dacko, then 1979 bringing in Dacko through Operation Barracuda with the French Proconsul Colonel Mansion) French intervention in Chad in support of M. Habré’s regime (1983 and 1986) Direct support to Idriss Deby from Sudan border to N’Djamena in 1990 (Colonel Paul Fonbome French intervention in Cote d’Ivoire (2003) French intervention in Chad (2008)  

There are very many indirect interventions, through mercenaries (a few examples):

Support of Katanga through Bob Denard (1965)
President Djohar of Comoros was overthrown by a team lead by Bob Denard (1995) Attack on Benin in 1977
Support to Hissein Habre in 1981-82 through mercenaries  

7. Has French policy changed?  

Those who tried to update the policy and develop a more mutual relationship with countries of the francophonie have not survived. These examples – an early one and a very recent one, suggest that policy has not really changed. 

In 1981, M. Mitterrand came to power: - Jean-Pierre Cot “resigned” in 1982 because he was pleading for a new type of relations with Africa.  

In 2008 under President Sarkozy: - Jean-Marie Bockel was removed from his position as junior Minister in charge of Cooperation and Francophonie to be Secretary of State in charge of Defense and Veterans. Jean-Marie Bockel, had said in an interview with Le Monde newspaper on January 16, 2008 that France should move away from supporting long-ruling African leaders who did not use their countries' resources, like oil, for the benefit of their people.  

Even today, French government figures are appearing in court for scandals and bribes in dealings with Africa.  `Angolagate’ charges arising from huge `commissions’ around 1994 arms swaps for oil between Russia, France and Angola (not technically in La Francophonie) is one outstanding legal case involving French bureaucrats (Christopher Mitterand), Russian and other middlemen and President dos Santos and many other Angolans.  Exploitation of oil in Gabon and Congo Brazzaville would yield many other examples of undercover arrangements. 

One could wish that relationships and dealings would become less controling and paternal and more `free, equal and brotherly', for the betterment of the lives of African people. But most African ruling bourgeoisies find it in their own best interest -economic, military, and political - to maintain good and profitable relations with French politicians and bureacrats.

Suggested readings:

-         La Piscine. Les Services Secrets Français, 1944-1984, Faligot, Roger. Krop, Pascal Editeur :  Editions Du Seuil - Date : 1985

-         Ces Messieurs Afrique: Le Paris-Village Du Continent Noir, Antoine Glaser; Stephen Smith,  Calmann-Levy, 1992

-         Books by François-Xavier Verschave (founders of the French NGO Survie ("Survival"):

1.La Françafrique : Le plus long scandale de la République, 1999, Stock, 380 p.

2. Noir silence, 2000, Les Arènes, 595 p.

3. Noir procès : offense à chefs d'État, 2001, Les Arènes, 382 p.

4. Noir Chirac, 2002, Les Arènes, 310 p.

5. De la Françafrique à la Mafiafrique, 2004, Tribord, 70 p. 

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.

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