Questioning Geopolitics: Political Projects in a Changing World-System

By Georgi M. Derluguian; Scott L. Greer | Go to book overview

Mutual Benefit? African Elites and
French African Policy

Scott L. Greer

Decolonization defied expectations in francophone Africa. As new states appeared across Africa and Asia and asserted their sovereignty and autonomy, France and its former African colonies began to construct a peculiar relationship that stood somewhere between formal and genuine sovereignty. This relationship has continued to repeatedly defy international norms and, often, logic. French African relations have their glamour and subterranean mysteries--French foreign legionnaires and intelligence operatives manipulating politics and staging coups in Africa, French mercenaries doing the dirty work of the French state, or the mysterious power wielded by seemingly private individuals over whole countries. The relationship between France and francophone Africa almost mocks the normal functioning of sovereign states in a state system, as when the president of Gabon decided who his ambassador from France would be, or when Radio France International announced the overthrow of Jean-Bedel Bokassa's regime in the Central African Empire before it happened ( Wauthier, 1995: 309). The relationship questions normal understandings of diplomacy: the francophone African states even have their own French ministry, colloquially known by its address on Paris's rue Monsieur, which has changed its name often but has always remained willing to service African heads of state. Meanwhile, French secret services traditionally ran the telephone company of Niger and tapped what they liked ( Golan, 1981). This relationship questions the processes of decolonization in Africa--Gabonese elites tried at the last minute to swap their prospective independent state for full integration into France ( Péan, 1983), and the long-time rulers of Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire were formerly French politicians of note. It questions the basic relationship between rulers and their states: Bokassa himself retained French citizenship and his military pension until he died.

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