Sunday, February 7, 2010

Not Yet Time to Eulogize Françafrique

Chris Smith, former chief Africa correspondent for Le Monde, writes about the not-quite demise of Françafrique in the latest London Review of Books. Françafrique is, of course, shorthand for the old boy network linking African and French leaders that ran for several decades under the tutelage of Jacques Foccart, France's minister for African Affairs under de Gaulle and subsequent French governments. It was cozy, patron-client sort of relationship: African leaders could count on France for military protection and support, and in return they gave privileged access to French companies operating in their country, kick backs and campaign contributions to successive French governments, and plush retirement funds to senior French officials.

Smith dates the quasi-death of Françafrique to some time in 1994:
Three events in 1994 adumbrated the end: the (unprecedented) devaluation of the CFA franc and with it the crumbling of the monetary wall around the Franco-African enclave economy; the genocide in Rwanda, which left blood on the hands of Africa’s gendarme (having failed to understand a country outside its historical zone of influence, France had thrown its weight behind ‘Hutu power’); and finally, the state funeral of the Ivorian president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the sub-Saharan godfather of Françafrique and an enthusiast of the ‘Franco-African state.’
Yet he's not convinced that the corpse is ready for burial:
Then why not issue the death certificate of Françafrique and turn the page? Because neither successive French presidents – from the Socialist Mitterrand to the post-Gaullist Sarkozy – nor francophone Africa’s heads of state, especially the remnants of the old guard, want to let go. Too much is at stake, namely the political survival of the heads of state and the status of French diplomacy. France remains a last resort for weak regimes under threat in Africa, while francophone Africa is still an echo chamber for France’s international pretensions.
It is a relationship the current president has proven surprisingly unwilling to end, says Smith:
Since he took office, Sarkozy has perpetuated France’s time-honoured tradition of parallel diplomacy in Africa. One set of advisers presides in public over the official business of l’Afrique de jour, while Robert Bourgi, in tandem with the Elysée chief of staff, Claude Guéant, is in charge of l’Afrique de nuit, where the lucrative, personalised politics that Sarkozy denounced during his presidential campaign continue to thrive.
Smith concludes: "For as long as there are footholds in the state apparatus, in France and in Africa, there will be réseaux (networks). To the surprise of many people, Sarkozy has given them a new lease of life."

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