This weekend African leaders from the continent’s Francophone countries are gathering for a summit in Kinshasa, capital of the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
Topping the guest list is France’s President Francois Hollande. Speaking earlier this week ahead of the conference, Hollande sounded like a colonial master from centuries past. He warned that he would be conveying a tough message on democracy, human rights and corruption to his African guests.
Of equal concern, said Hollande, is the spread of terrorism in the Sahel region among the former French colonies of Mali and Niger.
The irony is that the French leader is the least competent to lecture on these matters. For decades, his country has sucked the natural wealth out of Africa like a giant parasite, causing poverty, disease and underdevelopment, which in turn have fuelled despair, conflict and violence.
And the parasitic arrangement continues to this very day.
For decades, France has contributed directly to the violence and instability that has wracked so much of Africa. Coups, counter-coups, assassinations, destabilization and abductions – perhaps no other country among the colonial powers has afflicted the Earth’s largest continent with so much grief and ruination.
Following the Second World War, France ushered in a new era of modern slavery for the African countries that it had acquired as possessions during the earlier colonial Scramble for Africa at the end of the 19th Century.
Financially and militarily devastated by WWII, France knew that it could no longer subjugate Africans solely by force of arms. So, a new means of domination was devised: monetary control. The plan was signed into action by post-war French leader Charles De Gaulle in December 1945.
Through a French-imposed Colonial Pact, the “colonies francaises Afrique” were given a new currency, known as the CFA Franc. In all, 14 countries were obliged to adopt the single currency.
They included Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Senegal in French West Africa, and Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon in French Central Africa. The pact has persisted more than five decades after France granted formal independence to its African colonies in the early 1960s.
The level of power usurped from these countries by France through monetary control is astounding. All members of the CFA Franc are mandated to deposit up to 85 per cent of their country’s foreign exchange earnings in the French national treasury.
France in turn has the right to invest this money in the Paris Bourse as it sees fit and it has the prerogative not to disclose to the African governments how much these investments earn.
Not only that but the French treasury is able to lend the money back to the African nations with interest charged to them for the privilege of borrowing their own money. Moreover, the loans are capped at a limit of 20 per cent of the countries’ current public revenues.
The irony is breathtaking. The same monetary mechanism that Nazi Germany deployed to subjugate occupied France was, and continues to be, used by the liberated French on their African territories.
Furthermore, France determines the exchange rate for the CFA Franc. Unilateral devaluations have ensured the flow of cheap African exports to France while impoverishing African workers.
An integral part of the Colonial Pact was the right of free passage to French military in the signatory countries. Even though these African states were supposedly independent, France was able to maintain military stations and dispatch troops whenever it felt the need.
And the need was felt when the French government deemed that a party or persons within its African sphere of influence was challenging its hegemony.
One of the earliest victims of French dominance was Togo’s President Sylvanus Olympio. He was assassinated in 1963. A gifted economist who objected to the blatant exploitation of his people under the monetary arrangement, Olympio was eventually terminated by France and replaced by reliable stooges.
Another victim was Thomas Sankara, the leader of Burkino Faso, who was deposed and murdered in 1987 because he dared challenge French interference in his country’s internal affairs. He was affectionately known to his supporters as “Africa’s Che Guevara”.
The week before he was assassinated, Sankara said, “You can kill a revolutionary and an individual, but you cannot kill an idea.”
The French specialized in covert operations using mercenaries and special agents who would infiltrate target countries and recruit “rebels” to unleash terror campaigns against the people (the model currently being deployed in Syria). One of their notorious clients was former French soldier-turned-mercenary Robert Denard.
From the 1960s, Denard and his dogs of war engaged in coups, counter-coups and assassinations in Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Mali, Mozambique and even the British former colonies Nigeria and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). In the Comoros Islands, off East Africa, Denard was involved in four coups between 1975-1995 and is suspected to have had a hand in the assassination of three of its presidents.
All the while, the French government was afforded plausible deniability in the criminal sabotage carried out by “pirates of the republic”. But there is little doubt, from the disclosed involvement of French Special Forces in these operations and from subsequent legal protections afforded to renegades, that French leaders, including Georges Pompidou, Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Francois Mitterrand, knew full well and indeed most probably sanctioned them.
The French neocolonial system of enslavement and exploitation across Africa persisted because the Francophile African leaders were allowed to amass personal fortunes and assets by France. That was their pay-off.
Ruthless dictators such as Mobutu Sese Seko in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Jean-Bedel Bokassa in Central African Republic enjoyed private Air France Concorde flights to dine out in Paris and acquire palatial chateaux while their people starved under reigns of terror.
Bokassa also had the penchant for staving in the heads of children and eating the flesh of his victims – all good qualifications for terrorizing his country in the service of France.
Millions of Africans died from deprivation as their countries’ natural resources were extracted to enrich the French-backed dictators and French national treasury.
The DRC, whose capital hosts the summit this weekend attended by France’s Francois Hollande, is still recovering from decades of war, hunger and disease that claimed up to six million lives – horrors that France played a major role in inciting from the 1960s onwards, when the independence leader Patrice Lumumba was assassinated.
As political commentator Christof Lehmann notes, “It is a scandal that under the French monetary system so much of Africa remains poor and starving instead of benefiting from the vast natural wealth of the continent and the productivity of its people. Through monetary dominance exerted by Paris, Africa is propping up the economy of France and in turn the economy of Europe.”
Lehmann also points out that history shows that any African political leader who tried to break the Francafrique system of exploitation was invariably liquidated by France through coup d’etat or assassination.
The most recent case is that of Laurent Gbagbo, who until last year was the president of Cote d’Ivoire. Since independence in 1960, the West African country has been a leading exporter of cocoa and coffee. Corrupt elites, French export companies and the French treasury earned billions of dollars from the country’s fertile soil and laborers.
But after decades of lucrative earnings, the majority of the people still live in poverty, forced to toil as wage slaves on the country’s plantations.
Gbabgo, a history professor and active trade unionist, could see that his country would never develop and prosper unless it broke from the monetary shackles that France had imposed. The French government knew that he was planning to take Cote d’Ivoire out of the CFA Franc system.
In recent years, Gbagbo and some other African leaders, including Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, were trying to set up a gold-based Pan-African dinar. The Cote d’Ivoire is the hub of the West African francafrique economies. The French could see the writing on the wall for their monetary enslavement of Africa if the Gbagbo succeeded in extricating his country. Other countries would soon follow suite.
Says Christof Lehmann, “Laurent Gbagbo was one of the few African leaders who dared to challenge the oppressive status quo. He wanted to use the wealth of the African nations for the social well-being and development of Africa rather than enriching French and European capitalists.”
In late 2010, the Cote d’Ivoire Constitutional Council – the country’s supreme body – ruled that Gbagbo won a disputed presidential election. But French troops stationed in the country moved immediately to arrest him, killing many of his supporters in the process. They then installed the French-backed former IMF director, Alassane Quattara, as president.
Gbagbo is currently in custody in The Hague awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face allegations of crimes against humanity. His arrest, detention and prosecution are viewed by many as “victor’s justice” – political persecution to silence an inconvenient opponent.
International lawyer Christopher Black comments, “The arrest and detention of President Gbagbo does not conform to any standards of due process. He was arrested during a coup d’etat conducted by French forces allied with the rebels of Quattara, who was then installed in power to serve the interests of France, Britain and the US. The question of selective prosecution also arises.
Why was Gbabgo charged when Quattara’s forces are alleged to have committed terrible crimes in the northern region they controlled and during the election and the coup? The French forces shot down civilians when the latter tried to come to the aid of President Gbagbo, yet no French leader is before the ICC.”
Christopher Black adds, “Gbagbo’s arrest is a brutal example of how the ICC is used to justify the overthrow of governments that resist the diktats of the colonialist powers such as France, Britain and the US.”
Redolent of a bygone era, France has reemerged as a strident neo-colonialist power. It took a lead role in prosecuting NATO’s criminal war on Libya last year, culminating in the murder of Muammar Gaddafi. It is also leading the current foreign covert war of aggression against its former colonial possession, Syria.
Along with the US and Britain, it is also targeting the people of Iran with criminal sanctions based on trite, unfounded suspicions.
And France has shown that any African leader who questions its monetary enslavement in the 21st Century will be summarily hauled in front of an international show-trial on trumped-up charges to face life imprisonment.
But history never repeats itself exactly. Unlike earlier colonial times, this time around the mass of working people in France are finding that they too – like the masses of Africa – are being treated like abject slaves by the monetary diktats of the French (and European) elite.
Bonuses and bailouts for the rich; austerity and exploitation for the masses; no questions tolerated.
This weekend in Kinshasa, Francois Hollande’s sanctimonious, elitist lecturing on democracy, rights and corruption will have as much significance for workers in France and Europe as it does in Africa.
Finian Cunningham has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Many of his recent articles appear on the renowned Canadian-based news website Globalresearch. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in journalism. He specialises in Middle East and East Africa issues and has also given several American radio interviews as well as TV interviews on Press TV and Russia Today. His interests include capitalism, imperialism and war, socialism, justice and peace, agriculture and trade policy, ecological impact, science and technology, and human rights. He is also a musician and songwriter. Previously, he was based in Bahrain and witnessed the political upheavals in the Persian Gulf kingdom during 2011 as well as the subsequent Saudi-led brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protests. The author and media commentator was expelled from Bahrain in June 2011 for his critical journalism in which he highlighted many human rights violations by the Western-backed regime. For many years, he worked as an editor and writer in the mainstream media, including ,The Mirror,Irish Times and Independent. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is now based in East Africa where is writing a book on Bahrain and the Arab Spring.