France still has a finger in Africa

2013-01-20 10:00

In the 1960s, just after independence, former French colonies on the African continent announced new ways of conducting their affairs.

Leaders like Ahmed Sekou Touré, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Sylvanus Olympio, Seyni Kountché and many others were applauded, and much hope was put in them.

This hope did not last because France came up with a new way of controlling them.

It was known as “Francafrique”. Via it, France decided everything that was happening in its former colonies.

It was led by Jacques Foccart, the then special adviser on African affairs, commonly known as “the secret mastermind in Africa”.

He was able to organise in each former colony a group of people France could use.

Some countries went as far as signing agreements with France that its troops could stay in their countries.

In the island of Comoros, Bob Denard, a French army captain and later a mercenary, removed and killed two presidents on orders from his bosses in Paris.

Where it was not possible to have internal influence, they used neighbouring countries.

It was rumoured the president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, was killed by elements snuck in by then Ivorian president Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

In the 1990s, after the La Baule conference, it seemed that democratically elected regimes in Africa were a fashion and French influence was diminishing.

But those new leaders achieved almost nothing because they inherited a corrupt system, where the whole administration was remote-controlled by France.

They were left with two choices: “cooperate” with the former colonial master or be removed from power by coup, fake election or assassination.

In Benin, Mathieu Kérékou returned to power by beating Nicéphore Soglo, who beat him five years before.

In Congo-Brazzaville, Denis Sassou Nguesso came back after a short sojourn in France and unseated Pascal Lissouba, who had not finished his mandate.

In the Central African Republic, Félix Patassé was militarily removed by the current struggling president, François Bozizé, who was his chief of general staff.

In Niger, Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara removed a democratically elected government and was later killed in a confusing situation because he was shot by his own guards, led by Daouda Malam Wanké.

It is in Rwanda that France faced serious resistance because it assisted the government that committed the genocide.

The past two years have proved France has never dropped its influence in Africa.

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbabgo was arrested by French troops.

Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was removed by Nato troops, with France playing a leading role.

In Mali, French troops moved in to fight Islamic rebels, alongside regular troops.

In the Central African Republic, French troops have come in “to protect” and even evacuate French and European citizens, while the French embassy has been attacked by government supporters.

Can France survive without having influence in Africa? What is clear is that Franceafrique is still alive, though it is not operating like in the time of Jacques Foccart.

» Manzi is a freelance journalist living and studying in France

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