John Keiger John Keiger

How Africa fell out of love with France

On Wednesday last week, a new Gabonese military junta installed itself, having ousted President Ali Bongo, whose family have ruled the country since 1967. Just two days earlier, the French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech to his ambassadors in which he spoke of an ‘epidemic of putschs’ in what was formerly France’s greatest sphere of post-colonial influence.

Although most of these states have been independent for decades, Paris kept them firmly in the French orbit

There have now been six coups d’état in francophone sub-Saharan Africa in three years – Mali, Chad, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger and now the small but wealthy nation of Gabon. France’s whole African policy is on the skids and there will be trepidation in other presidential palaces, such as those of 90-year-old Paul Biya in Cameroon and 79-year-old Denis Sassou Nguesso in Congo.

What Macron did not say was that a common feature of most of these overthrows has been anti-French sentiment. Nor did anyone expect him to acknowledge what is stated widely: that this is the end of Françafrique and with it the long-delayed end of France’s imperial adventure.

Although most of these francophone states have been independent for decades, Paris managed to keep them firmly in the French orbit. The benefits were substantial on both sides. Largely corrupt regimes saw their leaders, family and descendants maintained in power by benevolent French diplomatic, financial and military agreements. African leaders could siphon off wealth to French banks and property investments, access high-level Parisian medical facilities, and remain confident of their invulnerability because of the presence of French troop garrisons.

In exchange France kept alive the remnants of past imperial glory and la mission civilisatrice, maintaining at its beck and call a sizeable UN lobby of African states and the use of African bases as force projection for its military.

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