In the past five years, France has invaded Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and the Central African Republic and co-led the invasion of Libya. In December 2013, France invaded Central African Republic (CAR). It is its second invasion of the CAR in 12 years. More importantly, this is the 52nd French invasion of the so-called francophonie Africa countries since 1960. In early 2013, it invaded Mali (invasion no. 51); in 2011, it spearheaded the invasion of Libya (no. 50) which also involved Britain and the United States; in 2010, it invaded Côte d’Ivoire, its no. 49 since 1960.
Yet a few weeks after these eloquent declarations and coupled with the preoccupation of an international media audience intensely focused on the unfolding Iraqi crisis, France invaded Central African Republic (CAR). In the wake of a coup d’état that had toppled the pliant, pro-Paris Angé-Felix Patassé regime in Bangui (CAR capital), France sent its troops into the country, with that invasion being no. 48 in Africa since 1960.
(Jacques Godfrain: “A little country, with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our] … relations with 15 or 20 African countries”)
(Jacques Chirac: “[W]ithout Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third (world) power”)
(Charles de Gaulle: “Self-government [restoration of African independence] must be rejected – even in the more distant future”)
(Leopold II: “I do not want to risk … losing a fine chance to secure for ourselves a slice of this magnificent African cake”)
France is holding billions of dollars owned by African [“francophonie”] states in its own accounts and invested in the French bourse … [“Francophonie”] African states deposit the equivalent of 85% of their annual reserves in [dedicated Paris] accounts as a matter of post-[conquest] agreements and have never been given an accounting on how much the French are holding on their behalf, in what these funds been invested, and what profit or loss there have been.
But why these 22 countries in Africa – at least 3000 miles away from France? Why Africa? Why not Asia, perhaps, or the Arab World, a people closer home to France? But aren’t these 22 African countries sovereign or rather “francophonie”, as France insists? Are these categorisations, “sovereign” and “francophonie” synonymous? If so, how? If not, why not? Yet the crucial question remains: Why Africa?
Handwriting on the wall
The popular overthrow and subsequent death in exile of Congolese dictator Mobutu, during the same period, was a further blow to the fortunes of “francophonie” in the region. Elsewhere in the empire, the tentacles of “francophonie” were also beginning to unravel. The situation in the Côte d'Ivoire economic powerhouse was of particular relevance. The sudden death in 1993 of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the Ivorian political colossus who had been state president since 1960, created a serious crisis of succession in the country that still remains unresolved. In 2002, it became the background of a tragic war between the state and insurgents in its north region and the precipitate collapse of Africa’s most successful economy that followed a decade later by the French invasion of the country and its installation of a client regime in Abidjan. But in Sénégal, France’s attempt to continue to dictate its choice of leaders in this northwest stretch of “francophonie” was rejected massively in the 2000 presidential elections when Abdoulaye Wade, the veteran opposition politician, defeated Abdou Diouf, the incumbent president and Paris’s much preferred candidate, and in the choice of president, 12 years later, in the post-Wade era.
In a desperate effort to stem the steady decline of “francophonie”, France embarked on its biennial so-called African-French summit that extends invitation to leaders of non-league states. It was in this context of “francophonie”-extension in the 1990s that France intensely courted the friendship of Sani Abacha, the Nigerian dictator and génocidaire military commander who participated in the 1966-1970 Igbo genocide, who was at the time internationally quarantined as a result of his regime’s continuing deteriorating human rights records. Abacha’s predictable appreciation at this gesture of breaking out of painful political and economic isolation was followed by a deft regime decision that keyed into the inner workings of the infrastructure of “francophonie”: Nigeria would hence embark on an intensive educational/allied cultural programme to “adopt” French as an “additional” lingua franca to English! Paris was of course delighted! But it was very short-lived indeed. The lingua franca opportunism died with the génocidaire and dictator in 1998!
(John Coltrane Quartet – and orchestra, “Africa” [personnel: Coltrane, tenor saxophone; Booker Little, trumpet; Carl Bowman, euphonium; Bob Northern, French horn; Julius Watkins, French horn; Donald Corrodo, French horn; Robert Swisshelm, French horn; Bill Barber, tuba; Britt Woodman, trombone; Gavin Bushell, piccolo; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; McCoy Tyner, piano; Art Davis, bass; Elvin Jones, drums; orchestrated by Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner; recorded: Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, US, 7 June 1961])
Afrohistorama, 20 August 2011, http://www.afrohistorama.info/article-africans-pay-for-the-bullets-the-french-use-to-kill-them-82337836.html, accessed 15 August 2015.
Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem. Histoire générale du Congo: De l'héritage ancien à la République Démocratique. Paris: Duculot, 1998.
“King Leopold’s Ghost”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King, accessed 20 August 2014.
Ouimet, Matthew. The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina, 2003.