Is France the real enemy of Africa's unity and development?

Isaac Mogotsi says that country's neo-colonial hand weighs heavily on the continent's development

"France interests me only insofar as it affects the situation of my country and we can make policy only with France which exists..." - Otto von Bismarck, German Chancellor, Unifier and former diplomat.

The killing of 13 SANDF troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) by the Seleka rebels again poses the urgent question: Is France the real enemy of Africa's unity and development?

The question arises due to undenied media reports that the Seleka rebels that attacked SANDF troops came from the direction of the Bangui international airport, which was under the control of the French troops. Yet the Seleka rebels did not once fire in the general direction of the French troops who had taken control of the CAR international airport by force. 

But the Seleka rebels thought nothing of slaughtering our troops on their way to taking Bangui, the CAR capital. Long before they moved to usurp power through the barrel of the gun, the Seleka rebels had called for the eviction of our troops from CAR, and went on to classify them, quite unfairly, as "mercenaries." 

However, they have never once called for the withdrawal of French troops from CAR. Nor have the Seleka rebels ever called their former white European colonial French masters "mercenaries." A very strange turn of events, if you think hard about it.

And soon after their successful coup d' etat, the Seleka rebels committed to review all contracts entered into between RSA and CAR during the era of CAR's corrupt Bozize government. At the same time, the Seleka rebels referred to France, whose troops were occupying their airport and have a long, infamous history of meddling in CAR's domestic affairs, as their "friends." 

This did not make sense, as the raison d' etat for the French troops occupying the Bangui international airport , as advanced by official France, was to protect French citizens in CAR, many of them business people with substantial business interests in CAR which date back to the time of or before CAR's cannibalistic Emperor Bokassa.

So, why couldn't the Seleka rebels bring themselves to refer to French troops occupying their airport as "mercenaries"? Why did they choose not to engage the French troops in combat, the way they engaged our troops? Why was it easy for the Seleka rebels to spill the sacred blood of their fellow black African brothers from RSA, but did not dare to direct a single bullet to shed the blood of the troops of their former white European colonial master, France?

What does this episode say about the level of pan-African political consciousness amongst the Seleka rebels? How does their political agenda fit into the overall efforts to deepen Africa's post-colonial independence, self-reliance and autonomous development? 

Or is the RSA President Jacob Zuma right in characterising these Seleka rebels as "bandits"? Was the Battle of Bangui one between RSA's "mercenaries" and CAR's "bandits", both from black Africa, watched on by a smug and self-satisfied former colonial master, France, the only party in the CAR debacle that came up smelling roses?

Was the role of France in CAR akin to a distant neighbor-provocateur who enjoys watching others' bitter intrafamily feuds that he has surreptitiously stoked?

One of the most surprising features of the RSA media coverage of the SANDF CAR military debacle has been that those who condemn the RSA government for involving itself in CAR, utter no word of surprise that a similarly distant former white European colonial master, France, can continue to use its military might to interfere in some African countries, such as CAR, with no scruples whatsoever. Some of SA media commentators went as far as to describe CAR as "...a distant and geographically irrelevant country..." from RSA. (See Stephanie Wolters, City Press, "Did Zuma fail Africa 101?", 07 April 2013).

In effect France's involvement in CAR has been given a free ride, with all the attention focused on RSA's short-lived but disastrous CAR involvement. So little has been written in our media about France's ruinous meddling in CAR, as if that is natural and the French's birthright.

It is not.

As much as a valid argument can be made that CAR dictator Bozize lacked political legitimacy to request RSA to station troops in Bangui for his own protection, and even for the training of CAR's army, given that he came to power through a coup in 2003, we must also ask by whose mandate did French troops occupy Bangui airport during the CAR civil war. Clearly neither at the request of the overthrown Bozize government, nor following supplication by the Seleka rebels. So by whose mandate did the French troops get involved?

Why is this fact not agitating the CAR Seleka rebels and RSA media as much as, if not more than, the SANDF troops that were stationed in Bangui at the invitation of Bozize? 

It is also true that Bozize's government was, at the time, whatever you thought of it, the de facto and de jure recognised authority in CAR, following the 2005 national elections there, able to enter into binding bilateral and international agreements..

So, what happens in the mind of a black African rebel, or "bandit" if you like, armed to teeth, that he quickly sees "mercenaries" in the troops from a fellow black African country, i.e RSA, but are content to see "friends" in the troops of their former white European colonial master, i.e France?

The CAR debacle tells another tale of France's unabated blatant interference in Africa and her continuing destabilisation of the African Renaissance agenda.

Whether in Chad, Niger, Togo, Guinea, Gabon, Cameroon, Morocco-Western Sahara discord, Congo-Brazaville civil war, the Rwandan genocide, Ivory Coast civil war, Libyan civil war, Madagascar civil strife, the Comoros strife, Mali civil war, and now the CAR civil war, France is the ubiquitous common denominator par excellence. 

And this is not the complete roll call of French interventions in post-colonial African affairs.

Sometimes subtle, often egregious, the neo-colonial hand of France weighs heavily on Africa's destiny.

Why can't the African continental leadership, especially the AU, speak out and stand up against this neo-colonial perfidy that is France's inimical external interference in African affairs?

France has imposed herself as a de rigueur and foremost "African" regional power, the first point of call on some "French African" issues like the Mali civil war or CAR civil war or Ivory Coast civil war.

It has become imperative to comprehensively unmask France's belligerent and destructive neo-colonial policy and praxis in Africa, starting with France's hurtful and malignant influence over CAR, which lies, centrally, at the very heart of Africa, even more so than Joseph Conrad's so-called "Heart of Darkness", i.e the Congo.

Such unmasking of FranceAfrique policy would go a long way to ending the historic but artificial rivalry and animosity between so-called French and English Africa.

The entire architecture of France's policy to Africa was best articulated and summed up, with astonishing candor, by Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French President.

In a blatantly racist, highly provocative and anti-black African speech in Dakar, Senegal, in July 2007, Sarkozy provided the philosophical validation for France's relentless interference in African affairs, especially in its former colonies. 

Amongst other risible and dehumanising things he uttered, Sarkosy stated that:

"The tragedy is that the African did not become part of history....They have never really launched themselves into the future. The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words. In this realm of the fancy...there is neither room for human endeavor nor the idea of progress."

As clearly propounded by its former head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, France is unable to reconcile herself with Africa's own "idea of progress." Because France sees Africa as trapped in "endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words", bedazzled by "the eternal renewal of time", forever unable to embrace "...human endeavor nor the idea of progress." 

Thus only France can anoint herself Africa's European neo-colonial Messiah.

That the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy was replaced by the socialist Hollande as France's President, has not radically displaced this core, low-brow French conception about Africa and Africans.

The alacrity with which French "socialist" President Hollande sent French troops to Mali to battle the Tuaregs of north Mali and Islamic militants, without even feigning to conduct substantial consultations with African leaders on the matter, other than the curt phone calls, is a case in point. 

When it comes to FranceAfrique policy, France does not permit herself the luxury of unhelpful internal ideological differences. Because deep in the French psyche, Africa permanently jostles with Europe as to which, alternately, occupies primacy in French eternal interests abroad.

It's a typical French grandiose delusion that dates back to Napoleon Bonaparte's disastrous adventure against Czarist Russia, newly independent Haiti and her colony in the Cape. It is the same French colonial fantasy that led to France's harrowing defeat in Dien Bin Phu in Vietnam. It is at the core of modern French bugbear that France will suffer Findlandisation or Netherlandisation the day it ceases to be a major, "hyper-frenetic", neo-colonial power in post-colonial Africa. It is the morbid fear of her becoming another average, unregenerate and indistinguishable European welterweight power, devoid of any global reach, heft and ambition.

The truth is that France's pretension to global power status owes little to her "Charles de Gaulle nuclear deterrence". After all, today Israel, Pakistan, India and even North Korea too possess nuclear weapons. Neither is it to France's commerce, industry and science. Japan, China, India, Russia and even Brazil are shafting her aside on this score. It is least so owing to France's United Nations (UN) Security Council veto, which China or Russia can nullify and invalidate with as little as a raised hand, as the latter two demonstrated over Syria, to name but one contemporaneous example.

The source of France's global power pretension lies in her continuing, pervasive influence over its former colonies-client states in Africa. This dependence on France by her former African colonies also feeds into French prosperity today, as was the case during France's colonial and Napoleonic heydays.

"French Africa" is the broad shoulders on which France stands high and tall on the global stage, punching way above its actual economic and diplomatic weight.

The EU bought France peace with Germany. "FranceAfrique" policy buys France her place at the head of the global table of power and diplomacy.

At that particular point where you can irretrievably break France's vice-grip hold over its indigent and mendicant neo-colonial client-states in Africa, at that very point will France cease to be a global power.

The French people know this. 

Most of the "French African" elites in France's former colonies, beholden to and still suckling from French patronage, dread this prospect.

Does all this mean that post-colonial Africa requires its own "Otto von Bismarck Moment" against France, to free herself from the abominable and highly injurious French interference in Africa affairs?

In 1870, France stood in the way of German unification and vitality, in the very same way France of the 21st century is standing in the path of Africa's post-colonial unity and prosperity.

But can post-colonial Africa emulate German genius and produce its own diplomatic Otto von Bismarck against 21st century French meddling in African affairs?

Is France of the 21st century the real enemy of Africa, in the same way Napoleon II of France in 1870 was the real enemy of divided, weakened, disparate and warring German states, prior to their unification under the "iron fist" of Bismarck? 

In his outstanding treatise, "Foundations of Leninism", Josef Stalin, the former "iron-fisted" Soviet leader, provided one of the most erudite critiques of "militarist-feudal-colonialist" Czarist Russia on the eve of the great Russian October Revolution of 1917.

Much of what Stalin wrote then about Czarist Russia resonates so much with the neo-colonial features of French imperialism and neo-colonialism in Africa at the current juncture

Stalin described Czarist Russia as "the home of every kind of oppression - capitalist, colonial and militarist - in its most inhuman and barbarous form". That it represented the worst features of imperialism raised to their highest pitch. Stalin further wrote that it was in Czarist Russia where these contradictions were revealed most plainly, in view of their particularly repulsive and particularly intolerable form.

France's 21st century neo-colonial FranceAfrique project displays the same morbid features.

This is because France today stands as an Antipodean and antithesis to Africa's post-colonial development and independence.

No other power in the world considers it its birthright to willy-nilly interfere and intervene militarily in post-colonial African affairs, the way France does. Only France does that with surprising regularity, and elan, thus projecting herself as the thin cutting edge of global imperialism's destabilisation and attempted re-conquest of Africa. She has effectively appointed herself global imperialism's neo-colonial gendarme in Africa. 

Not a single African country maintains a military base in France nor in any of her overseas territory. Not a single African country blatantly interferes in France's domestic affairs, nor intervenes to protect black Africa's large discriminated diaspora in France.

Yet France does all this in Africa.

So what right has France got to blatantly interfere in African affairs?

France is an impostor on African affairs, for its own narrow, neo-imperialist and economic ends. 

France's recent shameful involvement in the Rwanda genocide, on the side of Hutu genocidees, who slaughtered 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, underlines this bitter truth. (See Mahmood Mamdani's "When Victims Become Killers", 2002, pages 254-255)

On its current trajectory, there is nothing to guard against or stop France's neo-colonial project in Africa getting yet again entangled in Rwanda genocide-type total moral collapse in Africa.

Is France's continuing economic prosperity and global power pre-eminence irrevocably tied to Africa's continuing weak and subservient economic and diplomatic position in the global system? Why is France so determined to cling to its former colonial patrimony?

There can be no illusion about this one point - Africa's former colonial masters, especially France, enjoy enormous, well-entrenched, long-standing and powerful vested interests in their African neo-colonial client-states. Bringing to an end the deleterious influence of these former colonial masters over Africa will be more difficult than it took China to close its shameful chapter of national humiliation and partition by Japan, Russia, UK, Germany and some other leading Western powers in early 20th century. The ending of China's national humiliation at the hands of these powers was the sine qua non for China's modern-day incredible rise to global power status. Without ending this national humiliation, China would never have risen again.

Africa today faces no less a challenge regarding France's neo-colonial and imperialist project on our continent.

Can Africa, by emulating China, rise to this huge challenge?

Or, to paraphrase the great French philosopher, Dennis Diderot, is Africa still a continent "of men carrying souls of slaves" and yet "where men call themselves free"?

Because Africans are not slaves, I believe the time is now to say "Adieu" to the neo-colonial FranceAfrica policy.

Isaac Mpho Mogotsi is Executive Director, Centre of Economic Diplomacy in Africa (CEDIA).

He can be reached at [email protected] and can be followed at @rabokala1.

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