By Pape Samba Kane
These days in Dakar, Bamako and elsewhere in Francophone Africa, everyone is talking about French President Emmanuel Macron.
President Macron, born long after French colonies became independent, displays an ostensible modernism, and – at least on the surface – attacks the obsolete political apparatuses, which, according to him, harm the vitality of the French society. As a result, perhaps too naively, many Africans expected him to change the old “Francafrique” – France’s relations with its former colonies in Africa – for the better.
But the reality is more than disappointing. So far, Macron not only insisted on the continuity of France’s economic dominance in the region as a former colonial power, but he also signalled his support for French military presence in the continent. Within the first weeks of his presidency, he has also clearly demonstrated that his assumptions about Africa and Africans are just as racist and colonialist as his predecessors’.
The colonial money
Earlier this month at the G5 summit in Mali, Macron responded to the leaders of several countries of the African franc zone who see this currency as a cause of economic misfortunes.
“If you feel unhappy in the franc zone, you leave it and create your own currency as Mauritania and Madagascar did,” the 39-year-old president said. “If you stay there [in the franc zone], you must stop demagogic statements, making the CFA franc the scapegoat of your political and economic failures and France the source of your problems.”
This statement, as one might expect, triggered a flood of protests in Africa, and revived the debate on the viability and the colonial legacy of the CFA franc.
The CFA franc, the franc of the French colonies of Africa, was created on December 26, 1945, in the wake of the Bretton Woods conference, in which allied countries decided on what the international financial order should be like after World War II. According to French authorities at the time, the main purpose of this new currency system was to cushion the colonies from a strong devaluation of the franc.
In 1958, to settle the independence movements that were gaining ground all over colonial Africa, a new constitution was passed in Paris, transforming the French Union into the French Community – a federation of states with their own self-government. Under this new governance system, the CFA franc became the currency of the French Community of Africa. But this status quo did not last long, as almost all states in the newly formed “African French Community” declared independence from France in the two years that followed the constitutional change.
The CFA franc, however, managed to survive the declarations of independence.
After independence, several countries did choose to leave the franc zone: Tunisia in 1958, Morocco in 1960, Guinea in 1959, Algeria in 1964, Madagascar and Mauritania in 1973. But a total of 14 countries, 12 of which are former French colonies, decided to continue using CFA franc as their official currency.
At the moment, the CFA franc is the official currency of the African Financial Community comprising eight countries within the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (UEMOA), as well as the Financial Cooperation in Central Africa, with six countries in this region.
The CFA franc is guaranteed by the French Treasury. It had a fixed exchange rate to French franc until 1999, and now – to the euro under agreements that force the countries of the franc zone to deposit 50 percent of their reserves in foreign currency to the French Treasury.
This currency, which is manufactured in France, follows the fluctuations of the euro, thus depriving the countries that use it from monetary sovereignty. That the CFA franc is bad for the economies of the 14 countries using it is clear. A country cannot have an independent economic path to development without control over its monetary policies.
The complaints of African leaders are justifiable and by far not “demagogic”. Macron made this statement knowing full well that the colonial set-up of the CFA franc makes it quite difficult for countries to launch a unilateral withdrawal, given the high costs involved.
France’s continuing military presence in Africa
Macron made his first official visit in Africa to Mali – a country that is considered to be a brilliant symbol of French military’s triumphant return to the continent.
France launched an intervention in Mali in 2013 to push out fighters linked to al-Qaeda who had overtaken key northern cities. That mission evolved into the current Barkhane deployment launched in 2014 with an expanded mandate for “counterterror” operations across the Sahel. Currently, more than 4,000 French soldiers are participating in the operation in five Sahel nations alongside UN and Malian troops.
The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history … They have never really launched themselves into the future.
From Serval to Barkhane, French military operations in Africa are allegedly aiming “to fight terrorism” and more specifically to “return to Mali its sovereignty over Timbuktu and Kidal”. But, of course, another objective of these military operations – if not the primary one – is to protect French economic and geostrategic interests in the region, such as exploitation of Nigerien uranium and Malian gold. Also, it is well known that France is behind the creation of the G5 Sahel (an institutional framework for regional cooperation in development and security policies, incorporating Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad). The G5 helps France seal its military’s influence in the region and President Macron seems to be committed to maintaining the current unfair status quo.
During his visit to Mali, the new French president reaffirmed France’s commitment in the fight against terrorism in Africa and assigned a quasi-subordinate role to G5 Sahel countries, indicating that they can form indigenous armies, “to combat drug and human trafficking” at the border areas.
During the same visit, Macron also managed to offend Algeria, the mediator in the Malian crisis. At a joint press conference with the Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Macron said: “I will have a stronger demand from the states of the Sahel and Algeria,” he said, before stressing that “we cannot show any weakness whatsoever with regard to terrorist groupings, regardless of domestic political reasons.”
Macron’s comments were meant to suggest that Algeria is supposedly allowing al-Qaeda-linked individuals to freely move in its territory.
Africa’s ‘civilisational problems’
But the harsh words on the CFA franc and the subtle accusations against Algeria were nothing compared to his comments at the G20 summit in Hamburg regarding Africa’s so-called “civilisational problems”.
The young French president managed to make several stigmatising declarations about Africa in the short time period that he has been in office, reducing Africans to something sub-human. His declarations were akin to the ones that have been used, since slavery, to justify the extractions of African resources.
During a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg, as he was responding to a question about the necessity of a “Marshall Plan for Africa”, Macron made his most offensive declaration about Africa to date.
“The problems Africa face today are completely different … and are civilisational,” Macron told a reporter from former French colony Ivory Coast.
“What are the problems? Failed states, complex democratic transitions and extremely difficult demographic transitions.” He said that although France accepted to help with infrastructure, education and healthcare, a “simple money transfer” was not the answer.
“It’s by a more rigorous governance, a fight against corruption, a fight for good governance, a successful demographic transition when countries today have seven or eight children per woman,” Mr Macron added.
Macron’s words bordered on deliberate provocation, especially since the memory of the outrage caused by Nicholas Sarkozy’s Dakar speech is still fresh a decade later.
“The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history … They have never really launched themselves into the future,” Sarkozy had said in that speech delivered in July 2007.
“The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words,” he said. “In this realm of fancy … there is neither room for human endeavour nor the idea of progress.”
Like Sarkozy and the countless other French leaders before him, Macron sees Africa only through the prism of colonialism and white supremacy. He carries, like a disease, the profound collective European feeling of civilisational superiority and parallel fear of the demographic strength of Africa.
Colonialists have long sought to control African women’s fertility, as colonial masters dreaded being outnumbered and overpowered by the people they were enslaving and oppressing. Perhaps it was Africa’s demographic strength that helped it survive centuries of abuse and colonialism.
What Mr Macron and the rest of France’s political elite need to understand is that our problem is neither demographic, nor “civilisational”. Our problem is colonialism and the entrenched system of corruption and exploitation that Europe has set up and maintained in Africa.
Europe and North America continue to approach the continent with this extractive behaviour and demand to deal with African leaders not as equals. Historically, those who have resisted have either been corrupted or killed.
What Mr Macron et al need to understand is that times have changed and as much as the old system is entrenched, Africans are now more than ever aware and ready to resist it. And they would not take any more insults in silence.
Pape Samba Kane is a Senegalese journalist and political analyst.
This Article first Appeared on Aljazeera