When France said: “Long live neo-colonialism”

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The attacks in Paris that left 129 people dead drew mixed reactions from Africans and other citizens of the world. As leaders around the world expressed their messages of solidarity, memes, articles, Twitter, Facebook and the media tripped over each other with 24/7 coverage as the world got covered in the blue, white and red colours of the French flag.

While there was nothing fundamentally wrong for people to change their Facebook profile pictures to the French flag as a sign of solidarity with the bereaved nation, others questioned why the same facility was not provided during massacres in Beirut, Baghdad, Kenya and Nigeria.
Many felt that it was a racist double standard. Arguments went back and forth, and the rest is history. The frenzy associated with the attention that the Paris massacre received, reminded some that there is apartheid in death, as there is in life.

While we acknowledge that the loss of life is a regrettable tragedy, we should equally regard every human life as important, irrespective of race or social status. But alas, as our colonial history teaches us, we live in a world where thieves are celebrated as nobles and the noble as scavengers.

This episode reminded this columnist of one Georges Jean Raymond Pompidou, Prime Minister of France from 1962 to 1968 – the longest tenure in the position’s history – and later President of the French Republic from 1969 until his death in 1974. He was a top aide to President Charles de Gaulle.

When addressing a media conference on January 30th, 1972 in Fort-Lamy (now called N’Djamena), Pompidou angrily said: “Yes, of course we are neo-colonialists. The proof lies in the fact that we are trying to help this country; we are granting her financial aid. If that is neo-colonialism, then long live neo-colonialism”.

This outburst stemmed from a simple question by a journalist who wanted an explanation from Pompidou on the Colonial Pact and “compulsory solidarity” system imposed by France on its 14 former African colonies, through which these countries are obliged to put 65% of their foreign currency reserves in the French Treasury, plus another 20% for financial liabilities “suffered” by France during its colonial rule in those states.

This basically means that up to this day, all the 14 African former French colonies only have access to 15% of their own money. If they need more, they have to borrow their own money from the French at commercial rates. The Bank of France holds more than US$20 billion of African reserves in trust.

The Colonial Pact also imposes a “colonial debt” to be paid by the former colonies for “the infrastructure built by France in the countries during colonisation” and the automatic confiscation of national reserves.
This is what Pompidou was ranting and raving about as “granting financial aid” to former French colonies. As if that is not insulting enough, France has arrogated itself the first right to buy or reject any natural resources found in the land of the Francophone countries.

In other words, even if these countries were to get better offers elsewhere, they cannot sell to anybody until France says it does not need the resources being sold. French companies are to be considered first in the awarding of government contracts of Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equitorial Guinea and Gabon.

We all know what happened to Laurent Gbagbo when he wanted to give the Chinese a contract to build a bridge linking the central business district of Abijan to the rest of the city. The Chinese offered half the price quoted by French companies and did not want payment in Euros, or US dollars, as the French demanded, but in cocoa beans which is one of Ivory Coast’s natural resources.

In March 2008, former French president Jacques Chirac said: “Without Africa, France will smoothly go down to the rank of a third world power”. This view was echoed by another former French president, Francois Mitterand, who said: “If there was nothing like Africa, France would not have had any history in the 21st century”.

Unbelievably, France makes about US$500 billion from Africa annually. For France to be what it is today, it had to resort to the ruthless suppression of resistance to its neo-colonial rule over its 14 former African colonies.
The brutality against dissent is well documented. Giants, such as Sekou Toure of Guinea, who once told the French that: “We prefer freedom in poverty to opulence in slavery”, Sylvanus Olympio (Togo), Keita Modiba (Mali), David Dacko (Central African Republic) and many others who dared to resist the French Colonial Pact were killed openly or clandestinely.

Out of the 67 coups that have taken place in 26 African countries in the last 50 years, 61% of the coups took place in former French colonies with full support of the government of France in order to safeguard the Colonial Pact.
One might be bemused as to why this narration should concern Namibians or Africans from non-French colonies. The fact is simple: the conduct and interest of colonialism and neo-colonialism is not reducible to the language of the colonial master.

Whether French, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Arab or German, colonialism bites with the same fangs and remorselessly sucks the national resources of former colonies. All former subjects are united by one fact: that we have no (or very little) control over our national resources and economy.
Hence the need for economic freedom and ownership of our resources should remain our priority.

* Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.

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