Article Index

Earlier on in January 2003, France had significantly escalated its 2002 intervention in Côte d’Ivorie, to the west, by reinforcing its overall troops’ deployment to about 4000 and expanding the so-called sandwich territory between it and the forces of the Ivorian state and north-based insurgents. Given the frequency and the tally of its military interventions in Africa since 1960, France has, contrary to prevailing international perception, the worst record of Northern World power state military intervention in the Southern World.

Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe (March 2003)

It never ceases to amaze how very hypocritical indeed French foreign policy considerations can be especially when it comes to Africa. For a country that has displayed unrelenting opposition to the ongoing US and British military intervention in Iraq, France appears to be basking in the global populist imagination as perhaps the country that not only invented the concept of “non-intervention” in other countries’ internal affairs, but is guided unambiguously by this principle in its own policy in practice.

The robust performance of Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin during those dramatic January-March 2003 UN Security Council debates on Iraq would have added vivid credibility to this assumption. In one memorable session in these debates, de Villepin’s opposition to military intervention drew unprecedented applause from even usually reticent diplomats. Such were the liberatory contents in de Villepin’s address that one would not have been too mistaken if they thought that these had been derived unedited from the seminal papers of Amilcar Cabral.

Yet, a few weeks after these declarations and coupled with the preoccupation of an international media audience intensely focused on the unfolding Iraqi crisis, France intervened militarily in the Central African Republic (CAR). In the wake of a coup d’état that had toppled the Angé-Felix Patassé regime in Bangui (CAR capital), France sent its troops into the country under the pretext of “protecting French nationals” - the standard French rationalisation for its military interventions in Africa in the past 43 years which, in reality, are aimed at protecting the extensively entrenched socio-economic and strategic interests that Paris still wields across its former conquered African countries. France’s mid-March invasion of the CAR is its second military intervention in Africa this year and the 48th since 1960.

Earlier on in January 2003, France had significantly escalated its 2002 intervention in Côte d’Ivorie, to the west, by reinforcing its overall troops’ deployment to about 4000 and expanding the so-called sandwich territory between it and the forces of the Ivorian state and north-based insurgents. Given the frequency and the tally of its military interventions in Africa since 1960, France has, contrary to prevailing international perception, the worst record of Northern World power state military intervention in the Southern World.

Quintessential Target

Africa has been the quintessential target of French military interventionism during this period because immanent in the worldview of the French political establishment, irrespective of ideological/political colouration, none of the former French-conquered and occupied African states is really independent or sovereign by any breadth or shade of either of these definitions. Instead, according to this conception, these are francophonie backwoods, which, at best, have some measure of local administrative autonomy (hence, “francophone Africa”!), with ultimate sovereign power lodged at the metropolitan centre in Paris.

If recent evidence from the highest level of political authority of the French state is required to buttress this line of thought, we should recall that very introspectively frank declaration made on the subject in the early 1990s by the former socialist president of France, Francois Mitterand: “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century.” It was however Mitterand’s conservative Guallist party presidential counterpart, Charles de Gaulle, who, 50 years earlier, had inaugurated the now well-known French obsession to control Africa in perpetuity. The irony of the circumstances was indeed not lost on anyone.

Despite France’s early capitulation to Germany in 1940 in the latter’s war of aggression against its neighbours, de Gaulle, then exiled leader of the anti-German “French Free Forces” struggling desperately to effect French liberation, was himself vociferously opposed to the liberation of Africa. Africa, we mustn’t forget, was then under the jackboot of French occupation and those of its British and Belgian wartime allies. During the 1944 Brazzaville conference of French “overseas” governors which de Gaulle chaired, he was adamant in what he saw as his vision of the future of French-occupied Africa: “Self-government must be rejected - even in the more distant future.”

Supercilious Antagonism

De Gaulle’s supercilious antagonism to African liberation was of course not unique at the time. Similar sentiments were evident in the position of Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, who insisted that he had not attained his position as head of government to “preside over the liquidation of the British empire.” The Belgian king and government who barely resisted Germany’s attack and overrun of their country beyond three weeks in May 1940, were themselves equally unwilling to discontinue their occupation of Congo (Congo Democratic Republic) after Germany’s eventual defeat in 1945. This was in spite of the central role that the Congo played in the financing of the Belgian war effort (including the entire expenses of the country’s exiled royal family and government in London), which totalled the grand sum of £40 million.

As a result, Belgium neither borrowed any money to pay for the war nor was its gold reserve used. But unlike British and Belgian leaders, de Gaulle pursued France’s long time ambitions in Africa with megalomaniac intensity in the years after 1945 – opposing African liberation projects in the western and central regions of the continent under French occupation as well as on the islands off the east coast in the Indian Ocean especially Madagascar. However in 1958, de Gaulle changed track somewhat in his anti-African independence drive. Stung and disillusioned by the 1954 spectacular and humiliating defeat of French forces in Vietnam and the looming disaster in its ongoing war in Algeria, de Gaulle produced a document for a purported future of African freedom. In the main, this document envisioned a circumscribed African independence outcome that would ensure continuing French political and economic hegemony in Africa. Apart from Guinea, which opposed it when it was put to a referendum, France succeeded in imposing the document on the rest of its occupied states, with evident compliance with some segments of the African leadership of the restoration-of-independence movement, and the all too familiar tragic consequences since. The stage was now set for France to invoke the licence, at its own choosing, to intervene in the political process of any of its prized African lands of francophonie: invade, intimidate, manipulate, install, antagonise, ingratiate, indemnify, expropriate, invade, intimidate ...

Abetting Genocide and Militarism

Hardly any of the 22 countries that make up francophonie escaped this epoch of witnessing the invasion of their territory by some contingent of the French military from one of its numerous bases in the region or from those further away in Corsica. Countries such as Central African Republic (or Central African Empire as it was known when it was ruled by the very francophile acolyte and dictator, Jean-Bedel Bokassa), Rwanda (French military intervention was ongoing in the country as the forces of the pro-French central government perpetrated its dreadful genocide against the Tutsi in the mid-1990s), Burundi, Djibouti and Chad bore the brunt of the invasions as France sought to enforce or safeguard the fortunes of one client regime or the other. But it was the Congo Democratic Republic (or Zaïre or Congo-Kinshasa), the jewel in the crown of francophonie, which has the unenviable record of being the most invaded of the lot. Between 1961 and 1996, France intervened 17 times in the country to prop up the notorious dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, which destroyed one of Africa’s richest economies. For France, therefore, its hegemonic control of “francophone Africa” in the past 40 years has been a lucrative and prestigious rearguard quest to maintain a stranglehold of influence in the Southern World despite the obvious militarily weakened position of its overall international status after the end of the 1939-1945 war.


Knowledge Project

Africa Knowledge Project is an academic resource that offers journals and databases. Check them out.

 Upcoming Deadlines

CALL FOR PAPERS

Columnists

LivewireRasta Livewire is a leading blog that provides in-depth viewpoints from Rastas in Africa and African Diaspora.

Africa Knowledge Project (AKP) publishes peer-reviewed journals and academic databases.

Ojedi is an online retailer of fine art and exceptional handcrafted pieces from around the world.

Africa House is an Africa and Diasporian gallery. Africa House accepts proposals for submission on a rolling basis.

African Event Posters show posters of events at Africa House.

African Gourmet Dinners shows images of African gourmet dishes.