How France Underdeveloped Africa

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An article appearing in The Herald on January 14, 2017 (though first published in “This is Africa” on January 24, 2013) brought to the fore what Siji Jabbar – The Herald’s Correspondent and writer of the article appositely termed wanton looting by France of its former colonies.

A brief overview would suffice. During colonial rule in Africa, France controlled 14 states which were later organized into CFA Franc Zone, by a 1945 General De Gaulle decree. General Charles De Gaulle was a French statesman who later founded and became the president of the Fifth Republic (the current system of government in France). CFA Franc Zone referred to the French African Colonial Franc to rival the Sterling Zone by Britain and the Escudo Zone by Portugal. CFA stands for Communauté Financière Africaine (African Financial Community). CFA Franc serves both West African Franc Zone and Central African Franc Zone, each with its own Central Bank reporting directly to Paris. The former comprises eight members, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo while the latter comprises six members, namely Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, DRC, Chad and Equatorial Guinea.

Just like other colonial masters, France sought to “foster economic integration among the colonies under its administration, and thus control their resources, economic interests and political systems”, as reported by Ndongo Samba Sylla in Review for African Political Economy. Sylla rightfully calls the CFA Franc a kind of monetary imperialism in Africa which in my opinion is used by the colonial master like a herder would use a rope to tether a cow for controlling its grazing.

When France gave in to demands for independence from her colonies, she did so with iron strings attached. France signed with her former colonies a pact of “compulsory solidarity” which in the literal sense was a form of “colonial tax” that the 14 African states had to pay and have since been remitting to France for “benefits they got from French colonialism.”

The pact bound the former colonies to deposit 65 percent of their foreign currency reserves into the French Treasury and a further 20 percent for financial liabilities. This left the “former” French colonies with access to only 15% of their funds. Now, in the event they need more they are required to borrow their own money from Paris but at commercial rates. Through the “pact”, these African countries are coerced into keeping “their money” with Paris and nowhere else.

But the economic vassalage doesn’t end there. The CFA Franc “accord” conditions the Francophone states to give first consideration to France to purchase or reject natural resources they discover in their countries, irrespective of whether they can get better prices elsewhere – say China or Australia. The Francophone states cannot sell their resources to anyone else until France officially declines to buy. These countries must also give priority to French companies when awarding government contracts and it matters not whether these African countries can find better services and value for their money from other foreign companies. France manipulates Francophone governments to her own benefit and definitely to the detriment of advancement of competition that is critical for African countries in this age of global economy.

Describing the CFA Franc as a colonial tax is perhaps an understatement because France more than loots – she fatigues the dreams and visions of her former colonies. Worse is the premise upon which France founded the CFA Franc Zone, i.e., that it was “a means of compensating France for the colonial benefits”. Colonialism is aptly marked in the history of Africa as a dark age of dehumanization of Africans, wanton loot of Africa’s minerals and expatriation of her culture. How then can it be that Africa that suffered historical injustices in the hands of colonialists is coerced by Europe into “paying for being civilized”?

By refusing to let go of her former colonies, France by subterfuge literally robs her former colonies to immorally feed her citizens. It’s a case of a rich man grabbing land from a poor farmer and later as the former is forced out of the land, he blackmails the poor farmer into signing an agreement that its major harvests thereafter shall be stored at a grain reserve in his (the rich man’s) homestead. The farmer, the world knows, doesn’t have the capacity to build huge and secure granaries as well as use his produce wisely – the rich man would argue. The rich grabber’s argument for “protecting” the poor man’s produce is that by virtue of having cultivated the poor man’s land at one time, he is as entitled to control exploitation of future harvests as he is authorized to benefit from those harvests. By so doing, the rich man ensures that his children and future generations shall benefit from that land as long as the land exists notwithstanding the fact that it is the sweat of the poor man’s children.

What else, if not this, best asserts Walter Rodney’s argument in his 1972 masterpiece “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”? The Guyanese historian’s work cogently demonstrates how the European capitalist systems did loot from their former colonies through unfair policies, some of which are disguised as development strategies for Africa.
The manner in which France has treated her former colonies that attempted to leave or left the CFA Franc Zone confirms her ill-motive in controlling the geopolitics of certain parts of Africa. An instance in place is Guinea. Guinea’s founding father Sekou Toure opted out of the CFA Franc Zone in 1958 for the sake of his country’s independence from France. What followed was an unbelievable perturbation among the colonial elites and Parisian aristocrats.

Paris did more than punish Guinea. Three thousand French nationals left the country and carried with them their property but ensured they destroyed anything that they couldn’t carry with them including institutions, buildings, hospitals, vehicles, libraries, medicine and tractors. They killed horses and other livestock and burned or poisoned foods in stores and warehouses. In short, the French obliterated any signs that they once lived in that country; a total destruction that took Guinea several steps backwards. France was sending a message to other colonies in the CFA Franc Zone bondage. It worked.

France controlled Francophone heads of state like a ventriloquist manipulates his wooden puppets; any president who refused to toe the line was either overthrown or worse assassinated, and replaced by a friendly individual willing to curry favor with the former colonial masters, fund French political campaigns, cut deals and pledge loyalty to the CFA Franc Zone. It’s therefore no surprise that principled presidents were either forced out or killed to pave way for France’s superior vision. The case of Thomas Sankara sums it up. Sankara believed in Pan-Africanism and the true independence of African states. His vision for Burkina Faso was indubitable.

Sankara wanted to end imperialism and French dominance. He is reported to have told France when he took over power that “If Burkina Faso was unable to make material gifts to France, the immigrants who sweep the streets of Paris for meager wages should be considered a form of reciprocal African help.” This irritated French leaders who apparently mooted a plan – with the help of Libya and Liberia (read Muammar Gaddafi and Charles Taylor) and Sankara’s close ally Blaise Compaoré to assassinate him so that Compaoré would take over and serve the interests of France. When it eventually happened, Burkina Faso that had rejected IMF and World Bank loans but successfully relied upon her own domestic resources, slumped back to biting poverty and shameful dependence, to the benefit of France. It’s unfortunate but not surprising that several years later, Emmanuel Macron believes Africa’s problems are “civilizational”.

France is a reflection of the control the West has had over Africa over the years. By making sure African nations remain dependent (ironically) in this post-independence era – through aid and loans, many African nations remain 21st century slaves and permanent tenants of the “Underdeveloped Nations” because what matters to the West is their interests. Other things like democracy and good governance become lyrics for the theatre to be sung only when it is convenient for them – the West.

– The writer is a poet, playwright and author of “Parliament of Owls” poetry book available in bookstores in Nairobi (Prestige & University of Nairobi) as well as on Amazon.com. Besides, he’s currently involved in civic engagement and education through the arts, focusing on transparency, accountability, democracy and good governance.
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References:
The Herald, How France Loots Its Former Colonies, Siji Jabbar, January 14, 2017.
Rodney, Walter, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (London: Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications), 1973.
African Business Magazine, A Brief History of the CFA Franc, 19th February 2012.
Review of African Political Economy, The CFA Franc: French Monetary Imperialism in Africa, Ndongo Samba Sylla.
New York Times, A Grisly Assassination That Will Not Stay Buried, Howard W. French, March 10, 1997.

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