Magazine article New African

Francafrique, on Its Last Legs?

Magazine article New African

Francafrique, on Its Last Legs?

Article excerpt

Francafrique is no longer what it used to be. The reality of commercial interests and growing autonomy now take precedence over the political pirouetting that once dictated the survival of French Africa. But will Nicolas Sarkozy be the first French president to recognise that the greatest benefits for both France and the nations formerly regarded as France's "sphere of influence" are best gained through negotiating with them as equals, and not client states? Valerie Noury reports from Paris.

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IT WAS THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF Cote d'Ivoire, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who first coined the epithet "Francafrique" in 1955 to characterise the good relations he wished to establish with France. Later, this expression became associated particularly with the work of Jacques Foccart, the chief advisor on African policy under French presidents Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou--his presence behind the scenes made it possible for the machinations of many successive French governments until his death in March 1997.

Foccart was instrumental in the negotiation of various bilateral cooperation accords (relating to matters of finance and the economy, culture and education, and, of course, the military) with the then newly independent African states.

Foccart's emblematic label, to say the very least, dictated French policy towards Africa: in this regard he was without peer. This led him to be described as the most influential man in the Fifth Republic after De Gaulle. Given his knowledge, experience and invaluable address book, Foccart was brought back to the Elysee Palace in 1995 by Jacques Chirac--even at the age of 81. The writer and economist, Francois-Xavier Verschave, also adopted the term "Francafrique". For Verschave, however, "Francafrique" is "the longest scandal concerning the Republic", an outrage that has cut across every French government since De Gaulle. Verschave underlines three general traits that characterise Franco-African relations--opacity of information, crimes where Africans are always the victims and the complicity of African governments.

In 1960, De Gaulle understood that it was time to grant independence to the French colonies of Africa. France was to be a close friend of Africa, sharing its values in striving to encourage development and democracy. Yet many accuse Jacques Foccart of being "the man in the shadows", with the task of maintaining dependence; using secret and often illegal methods. As many ex-colonial powers did at the time, and still attempt today, he selected heads of state who were proven friends of France. This often led to corruption, and sometimes war. The accusations are extremely serious--thousands of civilians massacred in Cameroon after 1956, a Madagascan resistance broken in 1947, electoral fraud and assassinations. Yet to the guardians of this new order, Paris appeared generous--trading a share of income from raw materials for a share of development aid.

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In 1960, independence flourished across Africa. Fourteen countries were no longer under direct French rule, simultaneously Belgium let Congo go, giving it independence on 30 June 1960, and Somalia and Nigeria broke from British control.

After 50 years of independence, what is left of the network of French influence in its former colonies in Africa? Has the notion of "Francafrique" been left in the past and is its influence today greatly exaggerated? It is clear that we are no longer in the era of Foccart: France's influence has severely diminished. It can no longer operate in its previously presumed zone of influence without acknowledging its diminishing share of the cake, a share which had severely and irreparably shrunk.

Antoine Glaser, head of La Lettre du Continent, states that "Africa has globalised much faster than France". The issue is evidently complex. France cannot ignore its past nor can African heads of state be completely exonerated from their responsibilities. …

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