The French President, Emmanuel Macron, captured the current thinking of Europe and American policy makers towards Africa when he said; “Africa is the continent of the future”. For Macron, apart from securing the economic interests of France, that future may also save his country’s language from the decline it is experiencing elsewhere in the world.
French is the official language of Senegal and 19 other countries across Africa. La Fracophone a group of 88 French – speaking states and governments want to encourage the teaching of French alongside local languages while supporting the adoption of new words.
Macron’s policies towards Africa are proving not fundamentally different from the policies of his predecessors, which are aimed at securing Africa, especially its former colonies for its economic interest. In the aftermath of World War II the late president Charles De Gualle formulated a strategy to shore up France’s relations with Africa by ensuring a continued relationship with its colonies. In fact the 1940s to 50s was an attempt to establish a form of federation between France and its former colonies.
What however sprung up across Francophone countries in west and central Africa was a network of French commercial, military and political interests. These interests worked to maintain the status of African economic and political elites. The former colonies provided France with valuable raw materials and minerals while opening their markets to French imports. In return France guaranteed their national security and steady flow of aid.
France, however, retained the conversion of CFA – the basic monetary unit of Central and West Africa. To this day African countries such as Mali, Cote d’ Ivoire, Cameroon and Gabon are required to deposit two – thirds of their foreign exchange surpluses into a French operations account.
Under Francois Mitterand (1981-1995) 60,000 French troops were stationed in francophone Africa. The Islamic Sahel and Arab North Africa became the new frontier in the global fight against terrorism after the 9/11 era. President Jacques Chirac (1995 – 2007) came on board and France became unapologetically mercantilist. It remained in Francophone Africa to protect its national, guard its assets and to counter Chinese competition for natural resources and markets.
After Chirac, President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) came with little empathy for Africa. Sarkozy’s policies were centered on immigration to deter immigrants. He adopted a co-development strategy which saw France invest in education in Francophone Africa. President Hollande (2012-2017) succeeded Sarkozy and became more involved in Africa than other Presidents. Security issues that threatened French interests were met with military intervention like the operations Barchaine in Mali.
Hollande eventually tried to put the relationship between former colonial power – France – and the West African nations on a very pragmatic modern footing, between equal partners.
Now Macron has assumed office seeing African as the future. He is committed to building a new partnership that focuses on young people, especially in Africa by increasing France’s official development assistance (ODA) with a view to eradicating poverty, fighting terrorism and implementing the Paris climate Agreement.
The United States is equally determined more than ever to expand its sphere of economic influence in Africa with its announcement of ‘a new U.S African strategy to advance U.S trade and investment, suppress terrorism, conflict, and ensure that U.S aid is well spent’. The U.S has attacked Beijing for its “Predatory” role in Africa and vowed a “determined response”. At the heart of the new U.S. strategy, is about countering China and ousting undesirable African regimes that might insist on foreign investment that could spur the growth of their economies through its provision of much needed infrastructure. Heads of African states who have been in power for several consecutive mandates could be unsavorily affected by this current battle for spheres of influences between Washington and Paris.
Historically, West Africa has been traditionally a zone of France’s political and economic influence. But recently there has been a tendency towards a gradual diminishing of that influence where Washington is increasingly using the methods of “force diplomacy. Following the change of the political leadership of the North African states on the Arab spring scenario, Washington is now able to spread its practice of destructive imposition of democratic principles and freedoms to the west of the continent, where elements of its military structure, Africom, are already present.
But the fact remains that the priorities of Washington and Paris in developing relations with Africa are based on their need for unrestricted access to natural resources of African states. This goal is achieved under the guise of providing economic aid and various assistance regarding combating terrorism, mixed migration and improving the human rights situation on the continent. Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, matteo Salvini (June 2018 – Sept 2019) affirmed this when he derided France’s “apathy” toward stabilizing Libya claiming that “probably because it has oil interest that are opposed to those of Italy.
The outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Malo, supported this position by claiming that French economic policies prevent African States development and contribute to increased migration from the continent. So applies to economic policies of other western powers toward African countries. African leaders must rethink their economic strategies as they encounter the west. Otherwise it would continue to be the poverty continent of the world.