By Obadiah Mailafia
A FEW centuries ago, France was the leading continental power in Europe. After the 1789 French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte became master of Europe. A man of great ambition, he aimed to bring all of Europe under French hegemony. He almost succeeded until his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Bonaparte had invaded Egypt in 1798 with a legion of soldiers and scientists. It was in fact one of his scientists, Jean-François Champollion, who deciphered the hitherto closed world of Egyptian hieroglyphics, thereby opening up a new vista for the discipline that we know as Egyptology today. His soldiers, we are told, often used the face of Egyptian mummies for their shooting practice. They aimed to destroy their noses, the better to prove that the ancient Egyptians were not Africans.
Like him or loath him, Bonaparte was a state-builder who reformed the laws, centralised the state, built infrastructures and created a modern civil service. His greatest weakness was in the area of naval mastery, where he was outdone by the British under Admiral Nelson.
The Congress of Vienna 1815 brought an end to the Napoleonic wars; creating a new order in Europe. The unification of Germany under Bismarck in 1860s and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 signalled that the mastery of Europe had moved to Berlin. France turned its attention to Africa. From that date until today, France would always need Africa to validate its status as a world power.
In July 1883, one of their most influential statesmen, Jules Ferry, advanced three major reasons for French incursion into Africa. First, it was a compensation for “our defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871”; second, need for export markets, at a time when Germany became a fortress of trade barriers and the young American republic was under the sway of Hamiltonian protectionism; secondly,: after free trade treaties of 1860 were signed, while “Germany is surrounded by barriers” and America has become “protectionist in the most extreme sense”; and third, a duty to “civilise” Africans. In his own words: “I repeat that superior races … have the duty to civilise inferior race”. France has remained a thorn in the flesh of Africa for all these centuries.
A fortnight ago France and Italy had an unprecedented diplomatic bust-up, after Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accused France of manipulating African countries and thereby exacerbating the European migration crisis. Speaking at a meeting in Italy’s Abruzzo region, Di Maio asserted that he believed France would drop in the rankings of the world’s largest economies had it not been for “what it is doing in Africa.” According to him, “If we have people who are leaving Africa now it’s because some European countries, and France in particular, have never stopped colonising Africa….If France didn’t have its African colonies, because that’s what they should be called, it would be the 15th largest world economy. Instead it’s among the first, exactly because of what it is doing in Africa.”
But let the truth be told. The Italians are right. The French have been at the frontline line in the enslavement, colonisation and raping of our continent. They stole our gold, diamonds and other natural resources to build all those fancy buildings you see in Paris today.
Although President Charles de Gaulle reluctantly granted “independence within the French community” to its African colonial dependencies in 1958, all agreed to take the offer except Sekou Toure of Guinea. In revenge, the French tore down all the infrastructures in the country. What they could not take, they dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. They left Guinea in ruins. Similarly, those Refusenik African statesmen who attempted to tow a different course — such as Silvanus Olympio of Togo and Modibbo Keita of Mali — were violently overthrown. More recently, Gbagbo Laurent of Côte d’Ivoire who attempted to chart an independent course was overthrown in a violent war orchestrated by France. President Charles De Gaulle invented the concept of Françafrique as the new face of Empire, having employed a notorious hit man by the name of Jacques Foccart whose duty was to foster coups, undermine governments and trigger wars, all for the benefit of France. One scholar describes it as, “the secret criminality in the upper echelons of French politics and economy, where a kind of underground Republic is hidden from view”.
As a matter of fact, what the Italians have been saying about France is what every educated African has known all along. France is the gendarme of the West in Africa. French hegemony works through a shadowy network of informal empire – domination in trade, finance, military and political control. Our so-called “Francophone” brethren remain slaves of the French up to our day. They continue to pay an iniquitous colonial tax as reimbursement for the non-existent benefits of French colonialism. The irony is that it is the French who are supposed to pay us for centuries of enslavement, colonisation, rapine and outright grand larceny.
Our Francophone countries have signed dubious military defence pacts with Paris — a carte blanche that gives them the right to militarily overthrow any regime that does not dance to their tune. The whole of their external reserves are lodged in the French Treasury and the Bank of France. Paris decides what and how they spend their money. French companies have the first right of refusal on any major projects. The Bank of France prints their CFA currency and largely determines the broad framework of economic and monetary policy. The whole of the commanding heights of the Francophone economies are controlled by France. French mining interests call the final shots with regards to their natural resources.
In March 2008, former French President Jacques Chirac was quoted as saying, “Without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third world power”. His predecessor, the enigmatic François Mitterrand already prophesied as far back as 1957 that, “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century”. Corroborating the Conquistadores, former Gabonese strongman Omar Bongo had this to say: “Gabon without France is like a car with no driver. France without Gabon is like a car with no fuel…”
It is a tragedy that a country that sees itself at the very heart of universal civilisation can pitch its greatness, not in its innate creativity, but in being a parasite and thief of other people’s natural resources. We in West Africa have borne the brunt of French wickedness. They propped up Blaise Campaore to kill his brother Thomas Sankara and to reverse the Burkinabe revolution. For decades they used Campaore to wreck havoc in West Africa. Their leprous hands were implicated in the tragedies that befell Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The French have been training and arming mercenaries across our neighbouring countries. They have a hand in the Boko Haram genocide against an unarmed and defenceless Nigerian populace. When Nigeria and Togo spearheaded the formation of ECOWAS, the French sponsored the creation of a rival West African Francophone Community. Nigeria underwrites 75% of the annual operating budget. But France still influences our neighbouring countries to undermine us at every turn.
Among the Francophone intellectuals only a few people like Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal and late Samir Amin of Egypt understood the full nature of French imperialism and its destructive influence on our continent. It is self-evident that the French would do anything to ensure our continent never rises under the sun. The fall of Gadaffi was their handiwork. I never liked the tyrant, but no one could dispute that he was a pan-Africanist. It was a well known fact that Muammar Gadaffi had amassed gold bullions worth US$350 billion to back his African Single Currency project. Anybody who championed such a cause would be an enemy of the French and the Americans. Which is why when they overthrew him, the gold disappeared. They have left Libya in ruins. Their next target is Nigeria.