The history of France and its relationship with the African continent, just like many European countries is rooted in colonialism, a result of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, and its ugly aftermath. As is the case with many European countries, France, despite the independence of the African countries it colonised, has continued to eat out of the fruits of the colonies of former colonies previously occupied.
When France’s current president Emmanuel Macron was contesting for the presidency, he made statements that one would have termed progressive and pro-African. In Algeria, Macron had apologised to the Algerians and had labelled the 132 year French occupation in Algeria as “crimes and acts of barbarism.” If this statement did anything, it exposed what many Africans have in mind about colonialism, it was simply a crime, but it also exposed something more about ourselves, something deeply entrenched in the psyche of the average African, validation from the West. Macron’s statement seemed to validate the very thing we knew we were right about, and maybe hearing it from this young charismatic French presidential aspirant made us feel better.
Politics, whether on the continent or in the West, one would later realise is the same everywhere and anyone will say anything to get into power. Days later, after his statement, Macron apologised to a group of French supporters. But prior to this, Macron had told French magazine Le Point, “Yes, there was torture in Algeria, but there was also the emergence of a state, or wealth, of a middle class . . . This is the reality of colonialism. There are elements of civilisation and elements of barbarism.”
Macron’s statement is no different from that of South Africa’s Helen Zille who said in a series of tweets that “for those claiming legacy of colonialism was only negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water e.t.c” Zilled further said, “would we have had a transition into specialised health care and medication without colonial influence? Just be honest, please.”
In essence, Africans should accept the invasion of their lands, the subjugation, economic rip off, slavery, concentration camps, punitive armies as part of the price to be paid to have a middle class or wealth, or transport infrastructure. Macron’s statements outline the problems of European and Western leaders; shallow minded without a deep understanding of the complex structure of the African societies.
One would blame African leaders for many things, but until you look at who is pulling the strings you then understand why some African leaders behave in the manner they do, perpetual puppets the Western want to keep in check. What is sent as aid to African countries is part of the money that was taken from Africa in terms of mineral exploitation, and one could argue that the colonisers owe African countries a debt, which they should continue paying.
The proliferation of foreign owned army based across the continent is worrying. China has just sent its first contingent of soldiers to a base in Eritrea, while France, Britain, and the U.S. have multiple military bases in various African countries. The situation reminds us of the colonial period. History is only a teacher to those that are observant.
Macron’s latest statement on Africa was the proverbial last stroke that broke the camel’s back, and for once everyone asked serious questions, is this man not supposed to be erudite, liberal? But following Macron’s statements, it’s likely he’s worse than the far right, unwilling to address problems regarding Africa, and absolving France from the blame of Africa’s current predicament. In the G5 Sahel Summit held in Bamako, while addressing the issue of Francophone countries using the French Franc, Macron said, “If we stay there (in the zone franc), we must stop demagogic statements, making the franc cfa the scapegoat of your political and economic failures, and France the source of your problems.”
For a country like France that has been in the business of organising coups and installing leaders loyal to the French government in Paris, it is ironic, quite derogatory and demeaning to summarise the problem of Africa in macron’s words, “the challenge of Africa, it is totally different, much deeper, it is civilizational. The definition and yardstick of civilisation really needs to be revisited. Macron said during a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg, “What are the problems in Africa? Failed states, complex democratic transitions, demographic transitions, when countries today still are having 7 to 8 children per woman, you can decide to spend millions of Euros on the country, and you would stabilize nothing.”
The change in narrative by Macron, shows a leader who will likely bring no change to the status quo in the relationship between France and its former colonies. Beyond the initial rhetoric of a young, open minded and progressive leader lies the ugly reality unmasked by the prejudicial and racist statements.