France’s policies in Africa diminish its influence; inevitably opening the door to Russia & China
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In a recent story titled “How Russia and China are trying to drive France out of Africa“, what was not lost on the reader is the simple fact that Paris’ waning influence in Africa is almost entirely self-inflicted.
The fact that Africa has once again become a battleground for a great-power chess match is not lost on anyone. Military bases, arms deals, huge investments and diplomatic charm offensives are all part of what could be called a “Neo-Scramble for Africa.
The primary players in this new round of geopolitical gamesmanship are China and Russia against essentially everyone else who has ever had an interest in the African continent. France and the UK are special cases in this regard as both, along with Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium, were the foremost colonial powers in Africa.
While the latter allowed the independence movements in their respective colonies to flourish and sought close relationships with the new governments, France had an arrangement that could be best described as a “limited liberation”.
This has now come home to roost.
For most of its colonial experience in Africa, Polynesia, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, France viewed its imperial possessions as literal extensions of itself. This erroneous perception was reinforced by the strict colonial policies of assimilation and association, both of which became the mainstream way France governed its empire
The role the colonies played in the Free France Movement during the Second World War also consolidated the idea of the indispensability of French possessions in Africa. The African and Asian colonies greatly depleted their human and natural resources to support the Free French as they fought against Nazi Germany’s four-year occupation of France.
In the years after World War II – when Africa craved independence, – France, under the provisional government of the Free France Movement’s leader – Charles de Gaulle – re-evaluated the benefits of retaining its vast colonial empire. The French were reluctant to set them free. Having already assimilated hundreds of African politicians into the French political system, Paris had another option – limited independence within the Francophone community.
Admittedly, the French had given the African colonies a choice concerning independence by referenda, however, the conditions attached made any negative response to the parameters that were arbitrarily imposed by Paris very costly. When Guinea refused to abide by the conditions, it was severely punished by France; forced to turn to fellow West African nation Ghana, which stepped in to support Guinea with £10 million in aid.
France’s inability to have a mild reaction to its conditions for independence was on full display in Algeria, which fought one of the bloodiest national liberation wars in Africa in the years immediately after the Second World War.
For those newly-independent countries that joined the Francophone community, it meant that France heavily dominated their post-independence economies. The French have retained some or full control of the natural resources in the individual states, continued to be overly influential in foreign policy decisions and have stationed thousands of military personnel at permanent bases in some African nations.
France’s complicity in the heavy-handed rule by some African dictators cannot be overlooked. Growing indignation in Francophone Africa against French policies towards the continent is not limited to states ruled by juntas. Democratic nations such as Senegal have also seen their citizens protesting France’s continued presence in Africa.
France’s inability to recalibrate its policies towards Francophone Africa is pushing many of those countries into Russia and China’s embrace. Sadly, the only beneficiaries, in this case, are the autocratic regimes in Moscow and Beijing.