The Return of the French?

PARIS – How difficult is it to erase one’s past as a colonial power? Tunisia has been independent for 55 years, and Côte d’Ivoire for 51 years, yet France is once more playing a decisive role in these countries. Naturally, many Africans are unconvinced that France is acting only to defend the lives of a few thousand of its citizens, rather than its economic and strategic interests, which are negligible for the former and null for the latter.

The damage that slavery and colonialism inflicted in these countries has left a powerful legacy. And, though they have been handling their own business for decades, France still has a duty of friendship that forbids it to forget and requires it to adopt a certain mode of conduct.

Côte d’Ivoire enjoys large agricultural wealth (along with gold, diamonds, and iron); Tunisia possesses large phosphate deposits; Libya has oil; and all three have a relatively moderate climate. But none experienced economic takeoff at independence. Why?

The French historian and sociologist Emmanuel Todd has argued that, everywhere in the world, economic takeoff usually occurs 60-70 years after 50% of the population achieves literacy. Moreover, the higher the average age of marriage for women, the faster literacy spreads. The more time a woman has had to live alone and acquire knowledge, the stronger her desire and capacity to pass it on to her children.