France’s post-colonial diplomacy in Africa must change

France’s post-colonial diplomacy in Africa must change
The coups in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali, & Niger, where France has maintained its military presence, should serve as a wakeup call for the French government to seriously reform its diplomatic relationships across Africa, writes Aurélien Taché.
5 min read
25 Sep, 2023
Protest outside the Niger and French airbase in Niamey on September 2, 2023 to demand the departure of the French army from Niger. [GETTY]

Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Niger…in the last months, an uninterrupted series military coups in French-speaking African countries have taken place. A noticeable aspect of these events has been the anti-France rhetoric. Simultaneously, the influence of new imperialistic forces on the continent such as China and Russia have increased. This situation can only be explained by the fall of French diplomacy, trapped in a world vision that doesn’t exist anymore.

For decades, France was the strongest colonial force in Central and West Africa, and was responsible, through exploitation and violent repression, for the death of more than two million people. While the 60s saw the long-awaited independence of the twenty African countries under France’s rule, the former colonial power has not only never apologised for its crimes against the people and their land, but it has also maintained a massive military presence. Unsurprising then that this led to even more anti-France nationalist sentiments.

Despite the current political moment, France has still not learned its lesson.

While Emmanuel Macron’s government is denying it, some international experts believe France is considering a military intervention in Niger, against the current military power that overthrew president Mohamed Bazoum in July. If this is true, it will only reinforce the idea that France would rather deal with a corrupt and clientelist regime, as long as it protects their interests: access to uranium and deals to prevent African immigration to France.

''We need to withdraw our military presence in Africa and stop our companies from polluting their grounds. If we do not manage to consider African countries as real partners, we will continue fuelling new imperialisms; resentment towards France only further benefits Russian and Chinese influence.''

As they should, the US and the rest of the West refuses to intervene in Niger in order to maintain long-term hopes for a diplomatic solution. After all, another war in the Sahel region, which is already suffering from poverty and terrorism, can only lead to further instability.

A history of supporting oppressive regimes

We must also remember that in 1967 the French government directly helped Gabon’s Bongo dynasty, that has just been overthrown, to take power. Father and then son ruled for more than 50 years. Furthermore, in the Republic of Congo, France is still supporting Denis Sassou Nguesso who has been keeping a tight grip on the country for decades.

From supporting former dictator Ben Ali in Tunisia in the past, to the alliances it has with current authoritarian rulers including Macky Sall in Senegal, and Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast, France’s diplomatic strategy has always been to exchange its political support in order to further its own economic interests and access to Africa’s natural resources.

Additionally, Operation Serval – France’s war against jihadist groups in the region – also became a great way to justify military presence across the Sahel. France continues to treat it like their playground where it can test new security strategies and technologies. However, the intentions stated for the operation have not been realised and France hasn’t built any long-term development plan following its troops being sent over. This is largely due to the biased analysis used to mask France’s motivations for their presence.

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Frances continued narrative about protecting democracy is not even credible anymore. This was all too clear when Macron demonstrated that he has no problem hugging Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, who is responsible for several atrocities against Muslims and Christians in his country.

Paris also seems to have no problems with selling drones to Egyptian autocratic ruler, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who then used them to track and arrest his political opponents.

Indeed, France is always thinking of short-term interests and not the will of the people. But our diplomacy can no longer be based on old tricks with corrupt rulers. We need to build authentic partnerships between sovereign states, not clientelist relations encouraging state racketeering.

We need to withdraw our military presence in Africa and stop our companies from polluting their grounds. If we do not manage to consider African countries as real partners, we will continue fuelling new imperialisms; resentment towards France only further benefits Russian and Chinese influence.

There is also an institutional issue with our handling of foreign affairs. The Fifth Republic gives that power only to the president, while in the rest of the world, from US Congress to the Germany’s Bundestag, Parliament has a say in international relations and military operations. In order to build effective long-term strategies, we need collective input from across France’s political spectrum, not short-terms decisions decided between two or three government officials.

Finally, France’s visa policy is a crucial part of this demeaning diplomatic strategy that must be reconsidered. Last year, the government drastically reduced visas for North Africans in order to force the countries to accept the deportations of people from France back to the Maghreb.

Currently, it is a major challenge for Africans to be allowed to travel to France, and this is becoming an increasingly humiliating and desperate process. It means waiting for months, spending incredible amounts of time, energy and money, with no assurances.

Simultaneously, Africans speak French in their countries, see French companies profiting from their land and labour, and are and being ruled by French-supported regimes: an unequal, toxic relationship and an everlasting colonial mindset. Is it any surprise that frustrations have reached such a considerable level? No, this is why France’s ill-treatment of the people in this way, must end now.

Aurélien Taché is a French MP, for Val-d'Oise's 10th constituency and member of the foreign affairs committee.

Follow him on Twitter: @Aurelientache

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.