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CWA # 513, 18 July 2021

NIAS Africa Monitor
Beyond the apology to Rwanda: In Africa, is France still a 'silent colonizer'?

  Anu Maria Joseph

In May 2017 French President Emmanuel Macron, in his speech at Ouagadougou said he is "from a generation that would not tell Africans what to do" and that he will put an end to Francafrique. Macron's 'contemporary strategy' on Africa seeking equal partnership is going through its fourth year. 

But did he put an end to Francafrique? Is equal partnership merely a fantasy?

Francafrique is a network established by France's General De Gaulle and his ally Jacques Foccart between African politicians and business people to maintain control and to meet economic, military and cultural interests within its colonies after independence. However, later this term has been used in a contemptuous meaning to define French neo-colonialism in Africa. Macron expresses himself as a 'game changer' who is putting an end to Francafrique. But is he creating a 'new francafrique' outside the traditional francafrique which has a larger political impact than how it seems? 

In May 2021, Macron visited Rwanda, made an apology to its people for the 'overwhelming responsibility' of France in the Rwanda genocide 1994. The apology ended the colonial conspiracies and brought a new chapter to Rwanda-France relationship. The next day he visited South Africa for the first time and polished their relationship. It seems Macron is trying to create and recreate new relations in Africa that are not linked to the history of colonialism. But is this a real change or a rebranding of what his predecessors were doing?  

Africa's economy, France's treasury
Despite the revolutionary statements, Macron has not made any moves to end the unfair influence in Africa. CFA franc is still the currency of eight West African countries and six Central African countries. CFA franc being pegged with Euro, allows fifty per cent of foreign exchange reserves of franc zone countries to go directly to the French treasury. The currency framework was established then to cover the monetary issues of the countries. Today Africa no longer needs French insurance, but France backtracks on taking down the CFA franc. Recently CFA franc was renamed to 'eco' which was a name proposed for West African regional currency by ECOWAS. The new name 'eco' is being used to lessen the rising protests against the censorious aspects of CFA franc and to undermine ECOWAS.

France still has the right to buy any natural resources found on a territory of its former colonies and are not allowed to seek other partners as priority is given to French interests. All major economic assets of the francophone countries are maintained by French companies.  The companies get direct support from the French government to run without interruption. France does have direct access to rich natural resources like diamond, gold, uranium, oil and gas. Thirty-two per cent of Uranium and thirty-six per cent of oil supply of France is exported from its former colonies in Africa. French companies and institutions own and control basic services like water, electricity, transport, construction and agriculture in the region. With 1,100 companies and 2,100 subsidiaries, France is one of the largest investors in Africa. The larger the economic influence, the larger France covers the economic sovereignty of the countries.

Independence without sovereignty
France has exclusive rights in supplying military equipment and training to the francophone countries. The defence agreements under the colonial pact give France the legal rights for direct military intervention in its former colonies. They are obliged to make no military alliances with any other countries without the approval of France. France has a blueprint on every military strategy in West Africa. According to a report by the New York Times, half of France's peacekeeping force is deployed in Africa. About 5,100 French troops are been deployed in Mali, Niger and Chad as part of Operation Barkhane to combat jihadist groups. Operation Barkhane hasn't yet been a success, further it has been highly criticized for disturbing civilian life.
France has been directly involved in political and strategic choices of the government as the military troops have advisory rights in supporting and regulating the regional governments. It manipulates political ties through bribes and influences to meet its economic and political interests. However, African elites never fail in serving France ignoring the interests of its people. Unstable and incapable political regimes in francophone countries stay as a trump card for France to change the patterns of francafrique.

In addition, France uses its culture to deepen francafrique. One-half of the French-speaking people belong to Africa. French is used as the major language in the educational, entertainment and business sectors. About 30,000 French expatriates are residing in West Africa and 6000 language teachers are dispatched by the French government in African schools. The popularity of the French in Africa has always been an advantage for France to intensify its influence. The French military, political and cultural hold in Africa have a profound political impact than how it appears. Africa under France receives independence without sovereignty. 

New strategy
Macron is being denounced in Paris for its losses in Sahel. Keeping Africa under control is no longer a popular imagination in France. Probing African immigration is seen as a threat and a cultural burden. Clingy francophone countries and traditional francafrique no longer attract France. Macron's new strategy focuses on new relations outside the francophone countries with no suspicions of francafrique. Macron is keeping all zones of influence that escalate France's economy and eliminating the zones that denounce Macron's government. The new strategy is exposing a legitimate image of France.

The emergence of new partners like China, Russia and India fascinates Africa more than the approach of France. As Africa becomes an economic battleground, Macron's 'contemporary strategy' is a new model of francafrique to maintain and culture it influences. Macron wants to preserve and make a better relationship with Africa outside the colonial and neo-colonial controversies. From the new francafrique France expects to be free from responsibilities to act much more like partners without losing its political influence.


Anu Maria Joseph is a Post Graduate scholar in the Department of Political Science at Madras Christian College, Chennai. She is an intern at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS, Banglore. Her research interests include ethnic and tribal conflicts in Africa and Afro- European relations in colonial, post-colonial and contemporary periods. Currently she is working on the changing behaviour of Afro-European relations.

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