In the years of 1884-1885, the infamous Berlin Conference was held by the European powers. What historians refer to as the scramble for Africa was formalised. The imperial powers of Europe would divide Africa amongst themselves in a manner that would dissolve the chances of an armed confrontation. The fate of an entire continent would be sealed and the effects of the conference would be felt to this day.
France was a major beneficiary of the conference, for she managed to secure large parts of north, west and central Africa. However, following the years after the end of the Second World War and with the subsequent conflicts in Algeria and Indochina, French colonial authorities would be challenged and France would grant all of its African colonies independence by 1960.
However, the former colonies of France in west and central Africa were rich in valuable resources such as gold, diamond, uranium and oil. The French businesses and economy relied on these resources. To safeguard Paris' strategic interests, France's post-war leader, President Charles de Gaulle along with his Secretary-General for African Affairs, Jacques Foccart build a series of connection with the leaders of the former colonies. This sphere of influence would come to be known as Françafrique.
To maintain the sphere of influence, France would support multiple regimes that would remain loyal to it. Some of these regimes include former President Omar Bongo of Gabon, former Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the now Central African Republic and Idrees Déby, current President of Chad. Many of these regimes are synonymous with corruption and despotism. France was also a supporter of the Biafran separatists during the Nigerian Civil War in hopes that if Biafra was independent it would be incorporated in the French sphere of influence.
The Elf scandal of 1994 had highlighted the extent of the French influence in African politics. Elf Aquitaine, a French oil company which has now merged with Total had been paying bribes to numerous leaders across Africa such as Gabonese President Omar Bongo. In return Elf would be given exclusive access to local oil. Bribes were also paid to political parties in Paris to buy their support. The Guardian would describe this as "probably the biggest political and corporate sleaze scandal to hit a western democracy since the second world war."
Paris' influence in Africa also greatly extends to the economies of its former colonies. In 1945, France introduced the currency CFA Franc to be used by its African colonies. As of 2020, 14 African countries still use this currency. There are two CFA monetary zones. West African CFA is currently used by Ivory Coast, Benin, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Guinea-Bissau. The Central African CFA is used by Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Gabon. The currency is provided by the French treasury and its value is pegged to that of the euro.
Proponents of this currency have argued that it provides stability, low inflation rate, greater economic integration between the CFA zone countries and unlimited convertibility to the euro. However, critics of this currency have argued that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits of this currency and accused it of being merely a relic of the French colonial era. Historically CFA members are legally obligated to deposit a minimum of 50% of their foreign exchange reserves in the French treasury. The Wall Street Journal has called this 'monetary colonialism'.
The inability to set their own interest rates and determine the currency's exchange rate would also take a toll on the economies of the country. Most of the economies in the CFA zone rely primarily on exporting raw materials. Without setting their own exchange rates, these countries fail to get an attractive price for their exports and struggle to remain competitive. The high interest rates also prevent many small enterprises from taking credit.
France also maintains a strong military presence in Africa. France has been involved in multiple conflicts in Africa including the Chadian-Libyan conflict and Ivorian Civil Wars. More recently France has been undertaking counter-insurgencies against various jihadist organisations particularly in the Sahel, codenamed Operation Barkhane. According to BBC, France had stationed 4500 troops in the region as of 2019 to fight the militants. These interventions are in hopes of restoring stability as French interests benefit from a stable Africa.
However, France's hegemony in the region may not last long. In, 2019 members of West African CFA zone announced their intentions, that they will be shifting to new currency called the 'Eco'. Much like its predecessor the currency will be pegged to the Euro but member states will no longer be obligated to deposit 50 percent of their foreign exchange reserve in the French treasury. The new currency is expected to fully enroll in 2020. Other world powers, most notably China has also been increasing their presence in the region, further threatening to dilute France's influence.
Reevan Amin is a student, can be reached at [email protected]