A diplomatic row between Italy and France over migration to Europe started when Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accused France of impoverishing African countries by maintaining: “If today we still have people leaving Africa, it is due to several European countries, first of all France, that didn’t finish colonizing Africa”.
Di Maio said France was manipulating the economies of 14 African countries that use the CFA franc, a currency underwritten by the French Treasury and pegged to the Euro. He then added: “If France didn’t have its African colonies, because that’s what they should be called, it would be the 15th largest world economy. Instead it’s among the first, exactly because of what it is doing in Africa.”
Is France really robbing its former African colonies? Is the current relationship between African countries and France preventing successful African development and sovereignty?
More than a million African soldiers contributed to the defeat of Nazism and Fascism in World War II, a contribution often ignored or underestimated by France that has always taken for granted that Africans may be used again in the case of any military threat or war expectation.
After World War II, through political, security, economic and cultural ties, France did maintain a tight stranglehold in Francophone Africa, both to serve its interests and retain a last bastion of imperial prestige.
The leaders of African countries can be corrupt and not working in the interest of their citizens but, even if they wanted to be honest leaders, they would not be able to do so.
How could this happen? After World War II, the colonial pact maintained the French control over the economies of the African states; it took possession of their foreign currency reserves; it controlled the strategic raw materials of the country; it stationed troops in the country with the right of free passage; it demanded that all military equipment be acquired from France; it took over the training of the African police and army; it required that French businesses be allowed to maintain monopoly enterprises in key areas (water, electricity, ports, transport, energy, etc.). France not only set limits on the imports of a range of items from outside the franc zone but also set minimum quantities of imports from France. These treaties are still in force and operational.
For the past half-century, the secretive and powerful “African Cell” has overseen France’s strategic interests in Africa reporting only to one person: the French president. Some of the consequences for the Africa countries of a policy of dependence are obvious: dependence on the French economy; dependence on the French military; and the open-door policy for French private enterprise.
Beside being forced to pay a “colonial debt”, 14 Western and Central African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon) have their national reserves held by France into France’s Central Bank. It is estimated that France now holds nearly $500 billion every year of African countries’ money in its treasury and will do anything to keep it. Moreover, the African countries do not have access to this money.
In fact France forced its former colonies – CFA countries – to put 65% of their foreign currency reserves into the French Treasury, plus another 20% for financial liabilities, thus leaving them access to only 15% of their own money. If they need more they have to borrow their own money from France at commercial rates. Thus these African states are French taxpayers but their citizens are not French and do not have access to public goods and services their money helps pay for. Do French people know they’re living off the wealth of African countries and have been doing so for over half a century? And if they know, do they care at all?
France has the first right to buy any natural resources found on the territory of its ex-colonies. The African countries are also not allowed to seek other partners freely as the preference is given to French interests and companies in the field of public procurement.
France has an exclusive right to supply military equipment and training to the African military by deploying troops and intervening in the African countries to defend France’s interests.
Moreover, France’s former colonies are forced to use the colonial currency FCFA (the CFA franc) and to send France an annual balance report. Besides, they are obliged to ally only with France during a situation of war or crisis.
All in all, no wonder why French presidents and ministers are greeted by protests when they visit former French colonies in Africa.