There is a paradigm shift of some significance playing out before our eyes in in West Africa, and the French imperial forces are right to be worried.
When Charles de Gaulle made a tour of African colonies, he had this idea that the colonial structures that France had maintained on the continent were no longer tenable, and something “better” had to be brought in, basically to install a neo-colonial regime that would maintain the umbilical chord linking the continent to the metropole by strengthening the economic exploitation and cultural domination of Africa in a politico-military straitjacket out of which the new African states could never wiggle.
The terms of CDG’s proposals are well known today and they constitute what has been gnawing at the body politic of many West Africa countries since the 1960s; that the African “nations” would have their economies and financial and fiscal policies directly controlled by Banque de France (via a franc francais); that their external policies would be dictated by le Quai d’Orsay (foreign ministry); and that the most important decisions would have to be vetted by Le Palais d’Elysee (the presidential palace).
In this general enslavement, Paris made sure all the reserves of its African colonies were ordered to keep their foreign reserves in Paris, to be withdrawn with the approval of France, and paying a commission for the service!
It was easy for France to impose such diktats on the Africans, especially through the use of its clear protégés, brought back home to Africa after serving as MPs in the French parliament (such as Senegal’s Leopold Sedar Senghor and Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who was, in addition, a French government minister in Paris). They were assured comfortable positions as long as they stayed well within the blinkered parameters defined by France.
Those who, in the lead-up to Independence, were reluctant to accept what the French colonialists were ordaining, were literally just cut down. Such was the fate of Ruben Um Nyobe, who was killed by France, before another Felix Mumiye met the same fate. These were naked murders for which France has never apologised.
(An exception came in the person of Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea who rejected the whole masquerade outright, demanding unfettered Independence, declaring, “Rather die on our feet than live on our knees!” For this affront on le grand general, Sekou was punished with heavy sanctions, the French withdrawing everything, everything, up to paper pins. Unfortunately, Toure, left to his own devices by the French, embarked on a campaign of terror against his own people, arresting, torturing and killing to stamp out all dissent).
The rest of the Africans were browbeaten into line by the French, and, like docile lapdogs, they have kept their station, rocking no boat, ruffling no feathers, asking no questions.
That has been the situation for all this long, and the French have had little to worry about. In between, colourful characters have shown upon the scene to whip some of the more back in line, such as the infamous Jacques Foccard, who earned the sobriquet “Monsieur Afrique,” and who criss-crossed Africa much as a game-keeper ranges over his land, distributing patronage and reminding Africans of their ‘obligations,’ all the time collecting diamonds, gold, hunting trophies and offenders’ scalps.
All that time, you had little black faces with kinky hair taught in village schools all over ‘French’ Africa to sing, Nos ancetres les Gaulois, Our ancestors the Gaulois.
This acculturation goes very deep in our people’s psyche. In the execution of the genocide in Rwanda, President Francois Mitterand used his son Jean-Christophe to sell the genocide in 1994 using the Gaulois card, honouring their ancestors.
Now in West Africa, the young people are being disabused after so many years of obfuscation. They now know something that their elders never knew that France is using their own resources to keep them under bondage, and they want that done away with. One may want to blame these countries of taking too much time before they came to their senses.
Better late than never, as they say, and good acts should not suffer any sell-by dates. The young men and women in uniform in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger and now, Gabon, have shown the rest of us the way to go. This being so, the African Union (AU) and Ecowas should not be the ones to stand in the way of this wave of liberation, which should have been carried out in the 1960s.
It has always been shameful to see French diplomats freely accessing meetings of the AU, in which they play the role of prefects with the west African delegates in Addis Ababa, a shame we can hardly afford.
Soon we will find out that the young soldiers in the so-called ‘Coup Belt’ have shown the way, and it is up to the AU and Ecowas to take the cue. It may well be the opening salvos of the second liberation.