Is France the Curse of Africa?

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Djeukam Tchameni

French President Jacques Chirac’s remarks on South African President Thabo Mbeki’s peace efforts in Ivory Coast have unleashed a political and diplomatic tsunami in Africa and in the Diaspora. During a state visit to Senegal in February 2005, the French Head of State said:

“West Africa is West Africa. It has its own characteristics. You have to know it well. And I would really like President Mbeki — whose process, I repeat, we do support — to immerse himself in West Africa so as to understand the mentality and the soul of West Africa, because in times of crisis, you have to really know people’s mentalities and what is in people’s souls.”

The first reaction from the South African government to this statement came from Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad who, in diplomatic terms, expressed disbelief in front of such a blunder, “Since [Chirac] spoke in French and it was interpreted in English, we hope he has been misquoted.”

Professor Shadrack Gutto, head of the Center for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa, described the French President’s comments as representative of a “typical racist mentality of a former colonizer. To imply that he understands the soul of West Africans better than an African truly reflects the height of racist arrogance.”

South Africa’s Presidential spokesman, Bheki Khumalo, expressed his disagreement with the notion that Mr. Mbeki knew little about Ivory Coast, “In four months, we have accomplished what others have not done in years.”

Reactions to Chirac’s comments were not limited to South Africa. Africans worldwide felt insulted and many reacted angrily. “It is not Africans who have to understand other Africans. It is Jacques Chirac that has to understand us,” said a resident of Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

From Kigali, Rwanda, a political commentator wrote, “The only things Chirac understands about Africa are French neo-colonial interests.”

In the same vein, a Nigerian journalist questioned, “Mbeki has lived in Nigeria for two years representing the African National Congress (ANC) leadership in exile. How in this world can Chirac understand West Africans better than he?”

A student from the University of Buea in Cameroon declared, “Jacques Chirac, who has been trained by Jacques Foccart in the evil arts of neo-colonialism, cannot cope with the emerging new leadership of Africa. The days are gone when Paris could dictate the moods in its former possessions in Africa. African leaders have now decided to take the fate of their continent into their own hands.”

Africans in the Diaspora did not take the insult laying down. An African in America stated, “Africans in America must find a way to recreate the forces that came together to defeat apartheid in South Africa to defeat the French Nazi undertaking in West and Central Africa. It has gone on for too long. It has been hidden for too long. France and Jacques Chirac personally must pay for their crimes in Africa.”

Even in France, Chirac came under criticism for his inappropriate comments: “Jacques Chirac has just lost another good opportunity to shut up. How can he possibly think that he understands the mentality and soul of an African better than another African? Such irresponsible statements are a threat to the security of French citizens living abroad.”

Without a doubt, the derogatory remarks of the French leader have pulled the cover off the hidden and criminally incestuous relationships that still link France to its former colonies in Africa. Chirac, like De Gaulle or Mitterand before him, believes that the policy of assimilation instituted in former French colonies has succeeded so much that today a French speaking African is closer to a Frenchman than say an English or Portuguese speaking African. But wise Africans know that no matter how long you soak a piece of wood in the river, it never becomes a crocodile.

French leaders also love to portray France as the benevolent voice of a speechless Africa in world fora, bringing a touch of humanity in a neo-liberal global order dominated by ruthless Americans. This hypocritical posture is nothing but a scam to divert the attention of public opinion from the criminal records of France in Africa.

Historically, the country of Voltaire [a French philosopher and writer] was one of the leading slave trading nations of the world. Through the theater of a bourgeois revolution in 1789, France preached liberty, equality and fraternity at home, while practicing slavery, colonialism and exploitation abroad.

In 1804, Africans in Haiti, under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, defeated the French army led by General Rochambeau and created the first free Black Republic. France ganged up with other white countries, blockaded the newly independent nation and forced Haitian leaders to agree to compensate the French for the loss of plantations and slaves. The amount arbitrarily set was so high that it took nearly 100 years for Haiti to repay this ‘debt’ and the economic future of the island was forever compromised.

France not only devastated the island economically, but the French relentlessly sought to wash away the humiliation of the military defeat of 1804 by destroying Haiti as a symbol of Black freedom. After 200 years of meddling in the country’s internal affairs and fueling political instability and chaos, France finally conspired with the United States in 2004 to overthrow the elected President of Haiti, Jean Bertrand-Aristide.

“Jacques Chirac knows that the prosperity of his country depends not on the hard work of its people, but on the continued exploitation of former colonies in Africa. Without them, France would weigh no more than Portugal on the international scene. ”

The French expeditionary force that was sent to support the coup d’etat was called “Rochambeau.” At last, after two centuries, Chirac avenged the humiliating defeat of his human trafficking ancestors.

In other areas of the world, France’s history is just as dirty. In fact, the French came out of the second world war humiliated and weak, but they insisted on keeping control over 4,000,000 square miles of colonial territory spreading over Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and America — despite the help that they had received from the colonies and the promises of independence that they made to the African and Asian soldiers who fought and died to liberate France.

Bitter anti-colonial rebellions broke out all over the French colonial empire, especially in Vietnam, Algeria and Cameroon. In Vietnam, France committed the most horrible war crimes, but when the French stronghold of Dien Bien Phu fell on May 7, 1954 to a peasant Vietnamese army of nationalists and communists, French colonial rule ended.

Disgruntled and humiliated, the French mercenaries moved to Africa to satisfy their killer instincts. The bloody war fought by the Algerian people against the French is fairly well documented, because eventually the Algerian nationalists won the war.

To the contrary, the 15-year war that France waged against the Cameroon nationalists is one of history’s best-kept secrets. Cameroon was the only black colony that took up arms against France. The racist French leaders were not about to concede victory to “a bunch of niggers like in Haiti.”

Millions of Cameroonians were brutally killed, hundreds of villages destroyed. The leaders of the Nationalist Movement were all assassinated, and in 1960, France installed in power a puppet named Amadou Ahidjo. The silent war ended when the last historic leader of the Nationalist Movement, Ernest

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The only relationship France has ever had to Africa has been one of exploitation. This relationship has not changed under French president Jacque Chirac.

Ouandie was arrested and assassinated by a firing squad in 1970.

Successful or not, the fierce anti-colonial resistance forced France to reluctantly concede some form of ‘independence’ to its colonies in the 1960’s. De Gaulle quickly set out to build a neo-colonial apparatus — later known as Françafrique — to maintain domination over the former African colonies. The strategy consisted in the recruitment and support of puppet governments and the systematic assassination of nationalist leaders.

France also maintained a tight grip on their economies. In fact, the 16 French speaking former colonies of France are the only countries in the world that claim to be independent but do not have a national currency.

They use the Franc CFA [Colonies franciases d’Afrique or French Colonies of Africa] that is nothing but the French Franc. Their foreign reserves are kept in the French Treasury. As a result, France’s control of the monetary and financial system of those countries is total.

France still maintains military bases in five African countries and has sent troops throughout Africa several times since 1960 — sometimes openly, sometimes disguised as mercenaries. Working together with a network of French intelligence agencies, Elf Oil (now TotalfinaElf) operatives and friendly dictators, these henchmen have carried out murders, organized coups and fermented numerous civil wars all over French speaking Africa.

The most notorious of French intervention was its support of ‘Hutu Power’ mass murderers in Rwanda. When Habyarimana died in a plane crash in 1994, his supporters started a previously organized massacre that left over one million Rwandans (Tutsi or moderate Hutu) dead after a three-month killing frenzy.

France sent more troops during the genocide, but instead of stopping the mass murder, they protected the organizers of the genocide and helped them to get out of the country before the takeover by the Front Patriotique Rwandais.

Those that knew the history of France could but worry when, in September 2002, they moved into Ivory Coast. Since that time, shielding behind peacekeeping uniforms, they have fueled rivalry between the warring factions and later entered into a full confrontation with the Ivorian people that left many civilians dead.

The history of France clearly disqualifies Jacques Chirac as a “well wisher” in Ivory Coast. It does explain however why France will do all within its power to sabotage the efforts of president Mbeki. Jacques Chirac knows that the prosperity of his country depends not on the hard work of its people (who work only 35 hours a week), but on the continued exploitation of former colonies in Africa. Without them, France would weigh no more than Portugal on the international scene.

Unfortunately for Chirac, Africa has come of age. Gone are the days when Africa’s fate was being determined in Berlin, Paris or London. Africa has set its own institutions to address its own problems. The African Union has appointed president Mbeki as the mediator in the crisis in Ivory Coast.

The mediator has the confidence of the government and of the rebels. Many Africans are satisfied with his progress.

To the contrary, French troops were neither invited nor appointed by Pan-African institutions. The Ivorians do not welcome them. They must leave Ivory Coast immediately.

Djeukam Tchameni was a 2004 presidential candidate in Cameroon. He currently conducts doctoral research at the Center for African Renaissance Studies and at the African Centered Educational Foundation.

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