African nations can no longer afford to be France’s garden

By Antoine Roger Lokongo Source:Global Times Published: 2012-10-22 22:30:03

Illustration: Liu Rui
Illustration: Liu Rui

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was recently the site of choice for the 14th Summit Meeting of La Francophonie Heads of State and Governments held in Kinshasa in mid-October.

"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.

So why the choice of the DRC at this particular time? France fears losing a big francophone country should it veer toward the British-led 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.

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 threatening the economic viability of many NATO countries.

Former French president Jacques Chirac acknowledged that "without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power."Chirac's predecessor François Mitterand already prophesied in 1957 that "Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century."

Africa is criticially important for France. One French scholar, Xavier Renou, suggests several reasons: maintaining an international status, independent of US and Chinese influences, securing a permanent access to strategic resources, and 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 is economic, political and cultural.

However, in the 21st century, Africa does not need the remnant frameworks of colonialism. Africa should turn its back on La Francophonie in particular.

France does not respect Africa. 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 into history."

Some authors have seen France's traditional African policy as being equivalent to the US Monroe Doctrine. Though different in their purposes, both doctrines justify, mainly through historical and geographical arguments, the exclusive control by a nation over 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) and 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, 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 powers on a platter is being pursued to this day.

Moreover, the "special relationship" that France seeks to build with African countries is far more focused on France's national interests than African ones.

If you look at the economic integration among countries that share the Communauté Financière d'Afrique franc as a common currency, you will notice that the French Treasury holds billions of dollars owned by the African states of the francophone nations of West and Central Africa in its own accounts.

The francophone states 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 of 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.

The way forward for Africa is to be united and to follow the South American model. South American countries are succeeding exactly because they have reached their own consensus.

In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from Western domination.

The region has moved toward 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. Some nations have also rid themselves of US military bases and of IMF controls.

If Africa can follow a similar model, it can escape the constraints of colonialism, whether French, British, Portuguese, or US, and carve its own destiny.

The author is a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a journalist, and currently a PhD candidate at the Center for African Studies, Peking University.

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