By Omphile Maotwe
Cheik Anta-Diop was an outstanding African historian who documented with amazing clarity the African origins of global civilisation.
However, at a university named after Anta-Diop in his home country, Senegal, the former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, stood up on the 26th of July 2007 and uttered these despicable words: “The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has never really entered history. The African peasant, who, for centuries, has lived according to the seasons, whose ideal is to be in harmony with nature, has known only the eternal renewal of time via the endless repetition of the same actions and the same words.
“In this mentality, where everything always starts over again, there is no place for human adventure nor for any idea of progress. This man never projects himself into the future. It never occurs to him to break free from repetition and invent a destiny for himself.”
Sarkozy’s words fully encapsulated France’s attitude towards Africa dating back to the 19th century when it first invaded the Ottoman Algiers in 1830 and during the notorious scramble for Africa, through which Europe shared African territories amongst themselves like a piece of cake.
The establishment of French West African in 1895, which consolidated French governance over several African territories, namely; Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea (now Guinea), Côte d'Ivoire, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Dahomey (now Benin) and Niger, and with the capital of this federation located in Dakar, Senegal.
The federation existed from 1895 until 1960, when formal French colonialism ended in the continent, even though the last country to gain its independence from France, Djibouti, was freed in 1977.
Over these years, France had maintained a system of governance in its African colonies that was premised on resource extraction without necessarily settling a huge number of French people in the colonies.
Of all the countries that France colonised, Algeria had the largest number of French settlers. In most of these countries, France maintained control via military outposts and a system of governance called the “cercele system”, which constituted the smallest unit of French political administration that was headed by a European army officer, reporting to the governor based in Dakar, who in return, reported to the Minister of Overseas Affairs based in Paris.
Through this system, France managed to control the affairs of their West African territories without establishing permanent settlements for French people in the same way Britain did in most of her colonies.
This system also allowed France to co-opt a large number of elite African leaders, who would be the foot soldiers of the French colonial establishment, collected taxes, and browbeat other Africans who were less obedient to French colonialism.
As a consequence, France was able to build itself up as a modern economy as a result of the exploitation of African resources and the extraction of raw minerals and products from the continent, which were processed for the benefit of France.
This system did not need the daily presence of France in the continent. It was built up in such a way that long after colonialism had ended, France would still be able to control the affairs of the territories they once colonised.
The struggle for liberation, and the subsequent independence that followed, never broke the spine of colonialism. Black-led governments that took over power from colonialists never disturbed, in any fundamental way, the logic of colonialism when it comes to the architecture of economic organisation in the continent.
To this end, it is hardly surprising to notice that in many African countries, there has been no re-imagination of the developmental role of the State post-independence. Rather, we see continual rehashing of western imposed developmental paradigms, which have little resonance with African realities, and have no chance at all of lifting African out of the colonially dug pit of underdevelopment and poverty.
Frantz Fanon teaches us that the liberation of the colonised is not complete when the coloniser has taken down their flag and handed over power to the colonised. The relinquishing of political power by the colonisers may actually lead to the intensification of colonial hold over the formerly colonised through having in power a native bourgeoisie that is comprehensively out of touch with the needs of the people.
In African territories that were once colonised by France, this is observable mainly through the continued maintenance of the French controlled currency in use in all the former colonies of France. The CFA-franc is a shared currency in the 14 former colonies of France in the region.
This currency gives France monetary policy control over the territories it once colonised and demands that 50% of these countries’ foreign reserves must be kept in France under the tutelage of the French treasury. This gives African countries very limited control of their own fiscal affairs and allows France unmitigated control over the affairs of these countries.
Secondly, France still maintains a significant military presence in the continent. Right after independence, and perhaps as a condition for gaining independence, France compelled African nations to sign military cooperation agreements with their former colony.
Six of these countries signed these cooperation agreements right after independence. Senegal, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast signed these military agreements in 1960, and Togo signed in 1963. These agreements permit France to intervene militarily in cases of aggression. This aggression is not defined and gives France a blanket right to intervene in African affairs whenever they view their interests as threatened.
An example of this is that between 1981 and 1995, there were over 60 000 French troops in Africa, and in just five years between 1997 and 2002, there were 23 French military operations in the continent.
These interventions include forced regime changes, such as the overthrow of Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast in order to install a French stooge, Alassane Ouattara as president after a highly contested presidential election in 2010.
Since then, France has been behind each and every conflict in the so called francophone Africa.
Today, the number of French military personnel on the continent has dropped to about 11 000, but they are still involved in every single aspect of political life in their former colonies.
These economic, military and political connections that France still has over their former colonies allows them to interfere with almost everything in these countries, from eliminating competition to installing their stooges in power.
When they fail to do these, they instigate conflicts, such as the internecine conflict going on in Mali, Northern Cameroon, Togo and everywhere else where there is conflict in francophone Africa.
There will never be progress in any of these countries until all relations with France are severed.
All Africans who would love to see progress in the continent must be united in their call for France to leave the continent alone.
As we celebrate Africa Day, we do so mindful of the strength of the neo-colonial tentacles that still have a hold on the continent, and we are determined to fight these by all means necessary.
Omphile Maotwe is the Treasurer General of the Economic Freedom Fighters and a Member of the Parliament of South Africa