Former Colonies Drift from France

Article excerpt

TWO events of recent weeks mark the changing circumstances in relations between France and its former colonies in Africa.

The first was symbolic. On Feb. 7, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, late president of the Republic of the Ivory Coast, was laid to rest. His death represents the passing of a long era in which African personalities played roles in France as well as in their own countries. During his long career, Mr. Houphouet-Boigny was a minister of state in governments in Paris, as was another distinguished Francophone African, Leopold Senghor of Senegal.

The second event was more substantive. In January, 13 Francophone countries announced the devaluation of the Communaute Financiere Africaine franc. The move became inevitable when French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur announced last September that, to be eligible for aid, countries in the franc zone would need to accept terms set by the International Monetary Fund. The action reduced the special ties to Paris; the Francophone countries became more vulnerable to the shifts of world markets. Predictions of unrest have already become fact in at least one of the former colonies; the British Broadcasting Corporation reported Feb. 18 that food riots were taking place in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

The French, especially in the early days of decolonization, established close ties to and control over the Francophone countries. France maintained influence through economic aid; security guarantees, sometimes including the presence of French troops; and treaties that tied the new nations economically to France. Socially, France differed from other colonial powers in its relations with its former domains in Africa. Its universities were more open to Africans; through education, the French created a continental elite tied by language and favors to the former mother country. Race was not as significant as in British colonies.

Under President Charles de Gaulle and his immediate successors, one official, Jacques Foccart, tended relations with the African countries through both personal attention to the community's leaders and active diplomacy to maintain exclusive ties between these nations and Paris. …