By John Ikani
Ah, “Françafrique.” You’ve probably heard of the term that echoed through political and academic circles for decades.
But is it truly a thing of the past? Before we dive in, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what Françafrique actually entails.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of African Politics, “Françafrique is the system through which France engages with African states, most notably its former colonies.”
Did you know that the term Françafrique was actually coined by none other than Ivorian President Félix Houphouët-Boigny way back in 1955?
That’s over 70 years ago, longer than most of us have even been alive! And yet, even today, we still hear whispers of Françafrique, but now it’s often with a tinge of disdain.
French political analyst Niagale Bagayoko tells us that “It didn’t take long for Francafrique to become a derogatory term for French-African relations. The whole thing was shrouded in secrecy and driven by personal relationships, particularly since the days of General de Gaulle.”
In other words, the policies put in place under Francafrique were often opaque and favored certain individuals or regimes, leaving many feeling left in the dark and questioning the true intentions of the French government.
It’s almost like they were playing a high-stakes game of Risk, but with real people’s lives on the line.
Despite its flaws, the relationship between France and the African continent remained quite the enduring love affair. Imperfect, yes, but enduring and strong nonetheless.
Take, for example, the CFA franc, a currency used by 14 African countries including Cameroon and Senegal. Did you know that it’s actually printed in France?
That’s not all. France also provides military support to the region, with over 6000 French troops currently serving across Africa.
It is also worth noting that the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently the largest French-speaking country in the world, a testament to the deep cultural and historical ties between France and Africa.
Things fall apart
In recent times, there has been a noticeable increase in criticism towards France’s actions in Africa, with many people across the continent expressing their anger and frustration at what they see as undue interference in their affairs. Why are old pals turning into foes?
Let’s take Mali for instance. A decade ago, France swooped in to help out its former colony after some Islamists tried to take over the southern region from up north. At first, the French troops were hailed as heroes, but as time went on, their welcome seemed to wear out.
“Relations between France and Mali soured much earlier than many people realize. It all started when the victorious French army in northern Mali refused to let the Malian army enter the town of Kidal but allowed the Daesh terror group access. A decision that was seen as a betrayal. Things only went downhill from there, with real strategic differences starting to rear their ugly head,” says Bagayoko.
From heroes to becoming villains, France was asked to leave.
Mali is even considering demoting French by promoting local languages. It’s not just a linguistic shift that’s happening as some African countries are turning to China for business partnerships instead of relying solely on France.
Away from Mali, French diplomacy has been accused of striving to maintain business ties with Africa by supporting authoritarian regimes that have been in power for decades, giving a negative connotation to Françafrique.
Just when France thought Françafrique couldn’t get any worse, central African states recently announced that they are perfecting plans to stop using the Franc CFA (FCFA).
Is it the end of the line for France and Africa?
Although French President Emmanuel Macron has declared the era of Françafrique – with its ills and flaws – over, he insists there is a healthy pathway for French-African relations.
Speaking in Paris ahead of a four-nation tour of central African countries beginning 1st March, Macron called for “a new type of relationship between France and its former colonies – one that’s based on mutual interests and shared responsibilities. A relationship that does not reduce Africa to a field of competition or profits.”
As new global players like China, Russia, and Turkey, show increased interest in Africa, it remains to be seen whether the anti-French sentiment will dissipate or intensify.
African countries now have more options to choose from when it comes to forming partnerships and seeking investment. Consequently, France may need to tweak its approach and address the underlying concerns of its African partners to maintain a strong relationship.