France; The Rhythm of the Bandit and its Plundered Carriage (Part 1)
by Finian Cunningham
This weekend African leaders from the continent’s Francophone countries are gathering for a summit in Kinshasa, capital of the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
Topping the guest list is France’s President Francois Hollande. Speaking earlier this week ahead of the conference, Hollande sounded like a colonial master from centuries past. He warned that he would be conveying a tough message on democracy, human rights and corruption to his African guests.
Of equal concern, said Hollande, is the spread of terrorism in the Sahel region among the former French colonies of Mali and Niger.
The irony is that the French leader is the least competent to lecture on these matters. For decades, his country has sucked the natural wealth out of Africa like a giant parasite, causing poverty, disease and underdevelopment, which in turn have fuelled despair, conflict and violence.
And the parasitic arrangement continues to this very day.
For decades, France has contributed directly to the violence and instability that has wracked so much of Africa. Coups, counter-coups, assassinations, destabilization and abductions – perhaps no other country among the colonial powers has afflicted the Earth’s largest continent with so much grief and ruination.
Following the Second World War, France ushered in a new era of modern slavery for the African countries that it had acquired as possessions during the earlier colonial Scramble for Africa at the end of the 19th Century.
Financially and militarily devastated by WWII, France knew that it could no longer subjugate Africans solely by force of arms. So, a new means of domination was devised: monetary control. The plan was signed into action by post-war French leader Charles De Gaulle in December 1945.
Through a French-imposed Colonial Pact, the “colonies francaises Afrique” were given a new currency, known as the CFA Franc. In all, 14 countries were obliged to adopt the single currency.
They included Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Senegal in French West Africa, and Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon in French Central Africa. The pact has persisted more than five decades after France granted formal independence to its African colonies in the early 1960s.
The level of power usurped from these countries by France through monetary control is astounding. All members of the CFA Franc are mandated to deposit up to 85 per cent of their country’s foreign exchange earnings in the French national treasury.
France in turn has the right to invest this money in the Paris Bourse as it sees fit and it has the prerogative not to disclose to the African governments how much these investments earn.
Not only that but the French treasury is able to lend the money back to the African nations with interest charged to them for the privilege of borrowing their own money. Moreover, the loans are capped at a limit of 20 per cent of the countries’ current public revenues.
The irony is breathtaking. The same monetary mechanism that Nazi Germany deployed to subjugate occupied France was, and continues to be, used by the liberated French on their African territories.
Furthermore, France determines the exchange rate for the CFA Franc. Unilateral devaluations have ensured the flow of cheap African exports to France while impoverishing African workers.
An integral part of the Colonial Pact was the right of free passage to French military in the signatory countries. Even though these African states were supposedly independent, France was able to maintain military stations and dispatch troops whenever it felt the need.
And the need was felt when the French government deemed that a party or persons within its African sphere of influence was challenging its hegemony.
One of the earliest victims of French dominance was Togo’s President Sylvanus Olympio. He was assassinated in 1963. A gifted economist who objected to the blatant exploitation of his people under the monetary arrangement, Olympio was eventually terminated by France and replaced by reliable stooges.
Another victim was Thomas Sankara, the leader of Burkino Faso, who was deposed and murdered in 1987 because he dared challenge French interference in his country’s internal affairs. He was affectionately known to his supporters as “Africa’s Che Guevara”.
The week before he was assassinated, Sankara said, “You can kill a revolutionary and an individual, but you cannot kill an idea.”
The French specialized in covert operations using mercenaries and special agents who would infiltrate target countries and recruit “rebels” to unleash terror campaigns against the people (the model currently being deployed in Syria). One of their notorious clients was former French soldier-turned-mercenary Robert Denard.
From the 1960s, Denard and his dogs of war engaged in coups, counter-coups and assassinations in Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Mali, Mozambique and even the British former colonies Nigeria and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). In the Comoros Islands, off East Africa, Denard was involved in four coups between 1975-1995 and is suspected to have had a hand in the assassination of three of its presidents.
All the while, the French government was afforded plausible deniability in the criminal sabotage carried out by “pirates of the republic”. But there is little doubt, from the disclosed involvement of French Special Forces in these operations and from subsequent legal protections afforded to renegades, that French leaders, including Georges Pompidou, Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Francois Mitterrand, knew full well and indeed most probably sanctioned them.