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France’s waning influence in coup-hit Africa appears evident as some remember their former colonizer

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – When Gabon’s longtime leader was detained last week in the latest coup in Africa, France condemned the takeover but did little to intervene despite having hundreds of troops in the country. Did. It was a surprising break from the past.

African and French observers say that France, under pressure, is finally abandoning its post-colonial tradition of “Françafrique” – a pejorative term that smacks of patriarchal influence and quiet bargaining among elites – because of its economic and Political forces are weakening and self-reliance is increasing. Convinced Africa looks elsewhere.

France’s era as Africa’s “gendarme” may finally be coming to an end, following repeated military interventions in its former colonies in recent decades.

Former US envoy to Africa’s Sahel region Peter Pham said of France’s “silent response”, “In the old days of ‘Françafrique’, this coup would not have happened and if it had, it would have been quickly reversed.” Coup in Gabon. “Even more than[the Niger coup in July]French inaction underscores that times have changed – Gabon had long been the centerpiece of the old comfortable post-colonial system.”

Over the past three years, coups in four African countries have been linked by a similar thread: all were once French colonies. Some countries, such as Gabon, continued to have warm relations. Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose family has ruled the tiny oil-rich country for more than 50 years, last met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris in June.

But a new form of anti-French sentiment has emerged elsewhere. Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group has tied up with power brokers in places like the Central African Republic. China has ended the economic influence of France in Africa. Despite having no previous ties to British rule, some former French colonies are joining the Commonwealth.

For decades after decolonization, France continued to intervene and exploit Africa. At times, the overwhelming influence led to protests, but French-backed leaders often returned to power.

Such efforts have now started backtracking. Macron last year withdrew French troops from Mali following tensions with the ruling junta following a 2020 coup, and more recently from Burkina Faso for similar reasons. Both African countries asked the French forces to leave.

France also suspended military operations with the Central African Republic, accusing its government of failing to stop a “massive” anti-French propaganda campaign.

In a speech to French diplomats last week, Macron denounced an “epidemic of putschs” in the Sahel region.

Macron’s predecessors, including François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac and François Mitterrand, had launched new French military operations on the African continent. Macron did not.

Macron, the first French president born after the end of the colonial era, has made it clear that France has turned the page on post-colonial interventionism. But even though the word “partnership” has been the slogan of Macron’s rally in Africa, some people still have the wrong feeling.

Anisette L’Apple, publisher of local Adrenaline Info, said, “France is fomenting conflict in the Central African Republic and pressuring the authorities not to put forward real development policies.” In recent years.

In Gabon, the Bongo family has had deep and enduring ties to France for generations. Author and analyst Thomas Borrell called it “symbolic” of Francafrec – a local dynasty marked by corruption, French business ties and the murky guise of democratic practices.

The late Jacques Foccart, a shadowy French high-ranking bureaucrat known as “Monsieur Afrique” for his efforts to keep former French colonies close, recalled in his memoirs how in the mid-1980s , the young Bongo quietly came up with the idea of ​​setting up in Paris. Constitutional monarchy in Gabon. The French made fun of it.

Macron has not spoken publicly about Gabon since the coup.

Several longtime leaders of former French colonies are still standing and have a collective 122 years in office: Paul Biya of Cameroon with 41, Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo with 39; Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh with 24; and with Faure Gnassingbe18 of Togo.

Nigerian researcher Sediq Abba said that it is a bit wrong for France to say that Africa has changed and Paris is not the only available global power.

“The former colonies are looking out for their own interests. They are not looking at their history with France,” said Abba, who is president of the International Center for Reflection for Studies on the Sahel, a Paris-based think tank. “Diplomats and other officials continue to believe that they have a special relationship with African countries.”

But many French ties still remain, even in countries affected by the coup.

“It is tempting to talk about the end of Fransafrique,” said Borrell, a spokesman for Servi, an advocacy group condemning France’s postcolonial policies in Africa. “Françafrique is characterized by the entities still in existence – the French army is still in Africa; CFA franc currency; and a French patriarchal culture that must be replaced, including at the pinnacle of the French state.”

Today, France maintains more than 5,500 troops in six African countries, including more than 3,000 troops at permanent bases in Gabon, Djibouti, Senegal and Ivory Coast, as well as about 2,500 troops in its military operations in Chad and Niger. Are included.

France has maintained its forces in Niger, even though rebel troops overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum more than a month ago. On Thursday, the junta revoked the diplomatic immunity of the French ambassador, who had ignored his order to step down.

In neighboring Mali, many were angered by the French military presence because of its failure to rid the country of Islamist extremist fighters. Pro-Russia groups promoted dissent on social media.

“Their departure from Mali is a good thing, because our troops and their Russian allies are going to fight terrorists effectively,” said Timbuktu resident Harbor Cisse, pointing to European officials’ presence of Wagner Group fighters in Mali. “

The changing sentiments also reflect a simple fact: Today, most African peoples are too young to live under French rule. Most of francophone Africa gained independence in 1960. The last French colony, Djibouti, became independent in 1977.

President Guelleh of Djibouti finally realized the growing threat of a coup in francophone countries after the events in Gabon and condemned it in the strongest terms. In Rwanda, longtime President Paul Kagame has “accepted the resignations” of a dozen generals in an abrupt security overhaul. Cameroon’s more experienced President Biya did the same on the same day.

Perhaps the most important change in Africa is cultural. France does not live up to the aspirations it once had.

“France was a land of prestige,” Djibouti-born poet Chehem Watta, 60, told Le Monde this year as part of a project exploring changing France-Africa relations. But over the past few years, France’s image has been “damaged” by a reduction in French funding and military presence, as well as a tightening of visa restrictions, he said.

In Abidjan, university student Laurent Vasa of Félix Houfouet-Boigny University – named after a French lawmaker who became Ivory Coast’s first post-colonial president – ​​said he has stopped studying in France , as they feel that the quality of education they are getting has declined. on what he has heard.

“Studying in France is no longer the dream it used to be,” he said. He will like the scholarship in china.

Antoine Glaser, a journalist whose 2021 book is titled “Macron’s African Trap”, said Africans are dictating the changing relationship.

He said, “This is not a French president who is going to order the end of Francofrance, that is useless.” “It is Africa that is going to set France straight in terms of patriarchy, and get a new perspective.”


Keaton reported from Geneva and Cara Anna from Nairobi, Kenya. Associated Press writers Jean-Fernand Koena in Bangui, Central African Republic, Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali, Toussaint N’Gotta in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and Sylvie Corbett and Oleg Satinik in Paris contributed to this report.

Jamie Keaton, Sam Mednick and Cara Anna, The Associated Press


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