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Afrique-France - a manufactured summit that showcases French paternalism and neo-colonial posturing

French President Emmanuel Macron shares a laugh with French chef Mory Sacko before a dinner during the New Africa-France 2021 Summit, in Montpellier, southern France, last week Friday. File picture: Daniel Cole/EPA-EFE

French President Emmanuel Macron shares a laugh with French chef Mory Sacko before a dinner during the New Africa-France 2021 Summit, in Montpellier, southern France, last week Friday. File picture: Daniel Cole/EPA-EFE

Published Oct 15, 2021


OPINION: Africans must fight the toxic empire and its yoke on the continent, writes Koffi Kouakou.

“Françafrique” or Afrique-France? What’s the difference? Very little. “Françafrique” has morphed into a terminology switch with little substance.

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The long-time gathering summit, which France has made mandatory for French-speaking African presidents since 1973, had a facelift last week and became a one-to-many jamboree for the African Youth and civil society with the French president Emmanuel Macron.

Most Africans have been asking why African issues are still being discussed and facilitated by a French president, in France.

If history is of any guide, from summit after summit, France Afrique or Afrique France, renamed for the 28th time, shows a continuous betrayal of hopes that the relationship between France and Africa will change for the better. “Vive la France en Afrique!” continues unabated and abused.

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On the summit agenda, Macron wanted to listen to a different set of non-traditional guests, in the open and with the media. However, president Macron was brave and risky to call for such an open summit on contentious issues and with a twitchy African civil society angry at France’s role in Africa.

Although French propaganda had sold the summit as a great success, there are scathing comments about the value and usefulness of such a gathering away from Africa. Many are calling the summit symbolic nonsense. Others have gone further, with scathing comments about a manufactured summit with very little to achieve but French paternalism and neo-colonial posturing amid France’s fast waning influence in Africa.

France is confronted with historic baggage and a terrible colonial legacy she is trying to clumsily shed, unsuccessfully. France is in trouble in Africa and in the world. Much of her troubles stem from a long, brutal colonial history of exploitation. Even a crude audit of the relationship between France and her former colonies shows that very little has changed in substance, if at all.

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Almost all the French-speaking countries are economically underdeveloped and poor. Moreover, France’s influence is also waning in Africa. Other global powers are gaining influence on the continent. China, Russia, Brazil, Turkey and India are among other nations positioning themselves to carve out new, enticing and favourable partnerships with Africa.

France’s disastrous colonial legacy in Africa has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Africans and continues to be exacerbated by the neo-colonial and renewed patriarchal attitudes by successive French presidents with misleading open conversations via cyclically choreographed summits.

This year’s summit, that excluded African presidents, was no different, although a large part of the audience included a fiery African youth and civil society calling out Macron on the neo-colonial ways of France. Again, the Montpelier gathering was another symbolic summit where Macron was posing as the poster French boy, saviour of the new Afrique-France reset.

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Africa is France’s albatross and golden goose. Africa remains the treasure trove of choice for France. A French Senate report boldly claimed that Africa is France’s future. No wonder France will not let go of Africa so easily. There is no need for a readjustment nor a cosmetic reset of the France-Africa relationship. What is needed is a rupture, not even a disruption. France must learn to let go of the idea and ideal of empire in Africa and let her former French-speaking colonies decide their own futures in a multipolar world.

African intellectuals and their ilk who helped president Macron orchestrate the summit are on the wrong side of the future. Achille Mbembe, the Cameroonian intellectual who helped to complete an Africa-France relationship report for Macron, has been praised by French officials as ushering in promising and concrete proposals. But Mbembe and those who curated and organised the summit are dinning with a devil they should know. But, I am afraid, their spoon is too short for the devil in question.

Macron's open debate with a panel of young Africans chosen after months of dialogue in Africa, as shown live on global media, while heated and enthusiastic, was a subterfuge. The pseudo-summit Afrique-France in Montpelier was a beautifully manufactured event. It will probably yield very little in the larger scheme of the fraught relationship between France and Africa. Africa needs no more of these humiliating and condescending summits.

Nevertheless, we know that France will continue to entrench her imperial grandstanding in African affairs. She will also try to remain relevant and ever-present in Africa as she refuses to leave. The scathing title of the book of Thomas Borrel et al says it well – The Empire That Refuses to Die. But Africans must fight the toxic empire and its yoke on the continent.

* Koffi M Kouakou is an Africa analyst and Senior Research Fellow at The Centre of Africa China, University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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