Monday, May 31, 2010

France's Hard Road in Africa

Legacy of colonialism requires legacy of mentorship

Ever since the long process of de-colonization in Africa, French foreign policy on that continent has been something of a puzzle.

As previously noted to be the case for Britain, too forceful activity on the part of the French in Africa will bring charges of colonialism. But to decline to engage with their former colonies will allow the political environment in Africa to continue festering.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has moved away from the spectre of colonialism by decommissioning two of Frence's five military bases on the continent. But given the political environment in Africa, the answer cannot be less French presence. It in fact needs to be more.

In July Sarkozy will host a summit between France and its former African colonies. The summit will likely help France find the answer of what the ideal level of engagement with its former colonies should be. The question that lingers is whether or not France is prepared to make the necessary commitment required.

Sarkozy seems to place at least some of the blame for Africa's plight on African leadership.

"The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history," Sarkozy recently announced.

But France needs to provide desperately-needed mentorship to the leaders of its former African colonies -- in places like The Congo, Chad, and the Central African Republic.

That was once the way of France's African policies -- French West Africans were regarded as fully French, and were often offered educational opportunities at that level. Often the bulk of governmental responsibilities were assigned to African leaders, who worked directly under French higher authorities.

The haste of de-colonization allowed cronyism and virulent forms of nationalism-tattooed-upon-tribalism to set in in many of these former French colonies, destroying what progress the French model of colonialism -- one comparatively benevolent in some respects -- had wrought.

The new model of French mentorship with its former colonies clearly cannot simply be an updated version of the old model. La Francophonie could prove to be valuable tool of multi-national mentorship to these colonies. Unfortunately, some of the more developed members of La Francophonie have little to offer in this regard.

Belgium, for example, was known for the brutal oppression of its colonies in Africa. Greece has few positive examples to offer to France's former colonies, judging from the status of its finances.

That would leave the burden of leadership in La Francophonie to France, Canada, and Switzerland. Nor could these three countries direct all of their attentions to Africa. Haiti is indesperate need of this manner of help.

France's hard road in Africa is one that it doesn't have to travel alone. Hopefully, the results of Nicolas Sarkozy's Africa summit will help him realize that.


  1. Point in case: take a look at the 'former colonies' of the various 'colonial powers' and compare the state they are in now...

    The British former colonies (OK-let's exclude Canada and US as 'special cases), say, in the Caribbean, have excellent schools and governance structures.

    One glaring example of different 'colonial heritages' is on the island of Quiskea: half was colonized by the Spanish, the other by the French. And while the Spanish were nowhere near as constructive colonialists as the Brits - and the 'Spanish' half of the island certainly experiences some poverty, the Dominican Republic is a paradise compared to the formerly French half of the Island, Haiti....

    The Portuguese and French 'former colonies' are in the worst shape: both socially and politically. The patterns are clear to see.

    While I am not big on blaming the sins of one generation onto the next, I do think that in this case, there clearly is some responsibility that France needs to take for its past deeds.

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  3. Absolutely there is. But one also has to pay attention to the fact that the nationalism-tattooed-onto-tribalism that I spoke about was often strongest in French colonies, because the French taught these people to beleive in nationalism.

    What would Rwanda look like today if the nationalist/tribalist-inspired genocide never took place?

    It would be a much better place, I'm sure we can agree on that.

  4. I quite agree: different 'colonial powers' had very difference philosophies on how to 'govern' their colonies.

    Yes, all of them wanted to get rich off them - so the 'what', if you like, is identical. It was the 'how' that differed greatly.

    And that 'how' is what shaped the 'national consciousness' or the 'national soul' (for lack of a better term) of the colony and the post-colonial 'new nation'.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that the Brits (while just as greedy and haughty as others, no illusions there), instituted education and governance structures which were accessible to those 'colonized'. They held power, but the 'subjects' could get education, could rise, through competence, up in the ranks of the civil service, and so on.

    So, when the time to hand over power came, the colonies had governance structures in place and people educated and experienced enough to run the place effectively....and the self-respect to do so well.

    This was not the case in the French colonies.

    The French did not rely on the 'subjects' to aid in running the colonies, rather, they did the whole 'divide and conquer' by dividing the population by tribal/racial etc. lines and incited them against each other.

    This was a conscious policy and served to deflect much of the violent resentment against the colonists into tribal (literally or figuratively, depending on the colony) hostilities and violence....the most aggressive or charismatic individuals got killed in the 'tribe vs. tribe violence' and this made the rest of the population easier to rule.

    When the French left, they did not leave behind any governance structures, no people with skills to run the country if those structures had been there - yet left them with the deep tribal divisions and blood-feuds.

    It's the 'how' of their 'colonial philosophy'...


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