Françafrique at 50

DAKAR – This month, Africa’s Francophone countries will mark the 50th anniversary of their independence, and of the ties they maintain with France. But is there much to celebrate?

Even before French President Charles de Gaulle took office in 1958, he foresaw the wave of revolutionary nationalism that would soon sweep across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. As French president, he sought to circumvent that tide by proposing to the leaders of France’s African colonies a negotiated settlement for independence.

To accept de Gaulle’s offer, these leaders had to agree, among other things, to allow the stationing of French troops on their territory, provide France with a steady supply of raw materials at pre-determined prices, assume all colonial-era debts incurred by France, maintain the CFA Franc as their common currency, and grant the French Treasury veto authority over their sub-regional central banks. De Gaulle got most of what he wanted, and granted independence.

Francophone Africa has been paying for independence ever since. French troops have repeatedly intervened in Chad, Gabon, Zaire, Central Africa, Togo, and Côte d’Ivoire to prop up and protect complacent, corrupt, undemocratic, and incompetent leaders, remove recalcitrant ones, or curb civil unrest. In Rwanda, France has yet to live down its perceived role in enabling the 1994 genocide.