La Francophonie, a neo-colonial political machine
It only perpetuates Africa’s exploitation and alienation
Antoine Roger Lokongo
The Democratic Republic of Congo was recently the host of choice for ‘The 14th Summit Meeting of La Francophonie Heads of State and Governments’ which was held in the capital Kinshasa from 12 – 14 October 2012 and in which 3,000 delegates from 75 countries took part, including 15 heads of state.
‘La Francophonie’ stands for a wide network of institutions and projects aimed at developing the political, economic and cultural links between France and its former colonies, through training support, academic and students exchanges, promotion of the French language, cultural exhibitions, subsidies and so on (Renou 2002).
Britain too maintains a particular relationship with its former African colonies through the ‘Commonwealth’, Portugal through the ‘Lusophonie’ for Portuguese speaking countries.
The Francophonie summit has been hailed by the Congolese government as ‘a great diplomatic success’ which has propelled the country to find its place on the international scene again, especially at this very moment when Congolese people in the east continue to be subjected to ‘the most barbaric atrocities [by Rwanda-supported Tutsi insurgents]’, in the words of former Senegalese president Abdou Diouf, the current Secretary General of the Francophonie in his opening address (Radio Okapi Live, Kinshasa, 12.10.2012); a cure from ‘Congo pessimism’ or ‘Congo bashing’ and the beginning of Congo’s ‘opening up’.
The Summit therefore called for the end of impunity following the killing of more than 5 million Congolese, the systematic rape of women, rape being used as a weapon of war, and the systematic looting of Congo’s natural and mineral resources, especially the mineral coltan needed for the manufacture of mobile phones, computers, satellites…. The Summit therefore re-affirmed La Francophonie’s attachment to Congo’s territorial integrity which must be preserved at all costs, as Congolese President Joseph Kabila indicated, considering three possible solutions at the same time to neutralize those ‘negative forces’ from Rwanda: political, diplomatic and military (Radio Okapi Live, Kinshasa, 12.10.2012).
‘We have been accused of being too much open to other partners including China but now, behold, the opening is also made in the direction of our traditional partners, the Francophone countries of North and South,’ said Isidore Ndaywel, the Summit’s Congolese Commissioner, writer and historian, in an interview he gave to Colette Braeckman of the Belgian daily Le Soir. (Braeckman 2012).
So why the choice of the Democratic Republic of Congo at this particular time? The size of the DRC (as big as the whole of western Europe); a former Belgian colony (not a French one ) with its 70 million French-speaking inhabitants. French is the DRC’s official language and in most French-speaking countries, the DRC included, parents no longer teach their children their own African languages, a fact that contributes to cultural alienation. At the same time Westerners are flocking to China to learn the Chinese language. This should teach Africans a lesson.
France therefore fears to lose a big French-speaking country such as the DRC should it veer toward the Commonwealth camp; and the arrival of China in the DRC sends shivers down the West’s spine. The DRC’s importance also stems from its geopolitical and strategic position at the heart of the continent; its fertile land, benign climate, natural tourist attractions and, particularly, its mineral resources.
Addressing the Summit, French President François Hollande said: ‘The future of the Francophonie is here in Africa. It is you who will carry the French, its values, its diversity and its requirements at the same time. Our common homeland, in the words of a great French writer Albert Camus, is the French language.’ (Radio Okapi Live, Kinshasa, 12.10.2012).
The truth of the matter is that the West in general and France in particular cannot do without Africa; especially now that the global financial crisis caused by the corruption of the Western financial system is biting and indeed threatening the economic viability of many NATO countries for which Africa is indispensable given their significant economic interests there. In fact the theme of the Summit was ‘Environmental and economic challenges facing the global governance’. The war waged by the United States of America and its NATO allies against Libya and Côte d’Ivoire for oil explains it all. Unending Western-backed Rwandan and Ugandan military incursions in eastern Congo to loot minerals is another fact.
In fact, former President Jacques Chirac acknowledged that ‘without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power’ (Leymarie 2008, 58). That was in 2008. Now France is the fifth strongest economic power in the world (thanks to Africa) but Brazil, a third world power, which has just overtaken Great Britain as the sixth world economic power is also poised soon to overtake France and become the fiftth strongest economic power (Guichard 2012).
Chirac’s predecessor François Mitterand already prophesied in 1957 that ‘Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century’ (Mitterand 1957, 237).
Former French foreign minister Jacques Godfrain for his part confirmed that ‘a little country [France], with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our] relations with 15 or 20 African countries…’.This is consistent with France’s ‘Françafrique’ policies, which aim to perpetuate a particular ‘special relationship’ with its former African colonies (Mbeki 2011).
So, why is Africa so important to France? Renou suggests three reasons: (1) Maintaining an international status independent of American and Chinese influences (the Soviet Union yesterday); (2) Securing a permanent access to strategic resources; (3) Benefiting from a monopolistic situation. To attain these objectives and maintain its power over its former colonies, France has to pursue a global policy that would be economic, political and cultural (Renou 2002).
It is our firm belief that, in the 21st century, Africa does not need all these remnants frameworks of colonialism, call it Commonwealth, Francophonie, Lusophonie, and so on. We have two reasons why Africa should turn its back on La Francophonie particularly:
1. FRANCE DOES NOT RESPECT AFRICA
In fact France still considers African countries as its colonies. Unlike his predecessors, former French President Nicholas Sarkozy went as far as insulting Africa, when in a speech in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, he said: ‘Africa has no history and the African man has not fully entered history’ Ankomah 2007. Sarkozy took a leaf from French philosopher Victor Hugo, who at a state banquet on 18 May 1879 said exactly the same: ‘Africa has no history … In the nineteenth century, the White man made a man out of the Black man. In the twentieth century, Europe will create a new world out of Africa by connecting it to the civilized world.’ (Hardy 2008).
We believe that if you deny Africa, the cradle of humanity, and African people the builders of Ancient Egypt, any history (just as the first European settlers denied the Red Indians any history), you deny them also their humanity. The consequences cannot be weighed!
Some authors have seen France’s traditional African policy as being equivalent to the American Monroe Doctrine. Although different in their purposes, both doctrines justify, mainly through historical and geographical arguments, the exclusive control by France and the United States (Latin America in this case) of what they regard as their ‘private backyard’ (arrière-cours). This is reflected in a number of French expressions used to describe Francophone African countries, such as domaine réservé (private domain), chasse-gardée (exclusive hunting ground) or pré-carré (natural preserve), which prescribe the backyard as being ‘off limits’ to other great powers.
That is why, the presence at the helm of France’s former colonies of an independent, principled, unmanipulable and experienced leadership is regarded as an obstacle as such. The installation of weak, dependent and inexperienced pawns who can be guided along to deliver the country to Western superpowers on a platter is being pursued to this day.
2. SO-CALLED ‘SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP’ FOSTERS FRENCH INTERESTS
So it is an ‘un-commonwealth’ relationship, as Zimbabweans call it since their country withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003. If you look at the economic integration among countries that share the Communauté Financière d’Afrique (CFA) franc as a common currency, you will notice that the French Treasury is holding billions of dollars owned by the African states of the Francophone nations of West and Central Africa in its own accounts and invested in the French Bourse or Stock Exchange. The Africans deposit the equivalent of 85 percent of their annual reserves in these accounts as a matter of post-colonial agreements and have never been given an accounting for how much the French are holding on their behalf, in what have these funds been invested, and what profit or loss there have been. In fact these countries require the permission of France before they sign any contract with China! (Lokongo 2012). How free are they?!
Before heading to Kinshasa, President François Hollande proclaimed the end of ‘Françafrique’ in Dakar called for ‘a new partnership between France and Africa based on respect, clarity and solidarity as well as new economic relations that favour Africa most’ (CCTV Report: ‘Hollande defends UN resolution on Mali’, 14.10.2012). Let Holland begin by dismantling the CFA colonial arrangement and we will believe him.
The way forward for Africa is to be united and to go the Chinese way as well as the South American way. The Chinese way because we have to rely on ourselves instead of continuing to be dependent on our former colonizers, protect our sovereignty and demand a new relationship with them based on our own terms, on mutual respect and win-win cooperation. We have to make France and other Western countries realize that they should stop ‘cutting the same tree branch on which they are sitting’ (African proverb).
South American countries are succeeding exactly because they have reached their own consensus instead of trusting the Commonwealth, Francophonie, Lusophonie, Washington Consensus and so on. As Noam Chomsky puts it, in the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from Western domination, another serious loss for America. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all US military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the US and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as ‘the backyard’ (Chomsky 2012).
Having said that, we agree with Algerian writer Kateb Yacine who wrote that ‘La Francophonie is a neo-colonial political machine, which only perpetuates our alienation, but the usage of the French language does not mean that one is an agent of a foreign power; and I write in French to tell the French that I am not French’ (Djaout 1987, 9). Colonisation was not jut a ‘historical mistake’ as President François Hollande said in Dakar before heading to Kinshasa. It was the very denial of the African person’s humanity.
Antoine Roger Lokongo is a journalist and Beijing University PhD candidate from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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