Why we must not abandon Africa


Faced with the growing number of anti-French demonstrations in French-speaking Africa – in the Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and now Niger – many of our compatriots are reacting bitterly.

“Since the Africans don’t love us any more, let’s leave Africa – it’s a millstone around our necks. Let’s concentrate on Europe”, they say with increasing frequency.

They can’t stand to see France insulted by an ungrateful African youth, despite the fact that – since independence over two generations ago – France has given Africa a great deal in terms of economic, military, cultural and health co-operation. 

We can understand this French irritation, but it would be a serious mistake to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

History, and above all the future, dictates that we must not give up on Africa.

First and foremost, we must remain circumspect in the face of distorting television images. A demonstration by a thousand young people brandishing a Russian flag, instrumentalised by Wagner’s propaganda on social networks, cannot represent the entire population.

The entire nation of Niger expressed itself democratically in February 2021: it elected the pro-French Mohamed Bazoum president by a 55 per cent majority.

In Africa as elsewhere, we cannot be intimidated by agitating minorities manipulated from abroad. We have to fight them ideologically.

Although anti-French sentiment has spread like wildfire among French-speaking youth over the past three or four years, our fight is anything but hopeless. The cultural ties between France and its former colonies are deep-rooted, and can withstand sirocco winds. Over the past two decades, local radio stations have proliferated in Africa. But when African listeners are looking for the truth on a sensitive issue, they always turn to RFI.

Faced with this anti-French movement, the worst thing we could do would be to indulge in repentance. We can be proud of most of the French colonial work in Africa. The administrators trained at the Ecole Coloniale on Avenue de l’Observatoire ignored the notion of profit.

Their priority was the development of populations, not their enslavement. Their obsession was to build more and more schools, more and more roads, more and more dams, more and more dispensaries, as shown in Philippe San Marco’s book L’Afrique noire : un rêve français : dans les pas de Paul Vazeilles, broussard de grande brousse (1907-1941).

Even if our trade with Africa today represents only 5 per cent of our international trade, there’s no reason to abandon Africa to the Russians and the Chinese. They are far less formidable than we think.

By failing to embrace the notion of soft power, Putin’s Russia has lost all influence in Eastern Europe. How can it succeed with Africans in the long term, when it has failed in the Slavic world? As for China, Africans are beginning to understand that it is more interested in their raw materials than in themselves.

Does this mean that all is well with France’s African policy? No. It needs to be rethought from top to bottom. It was plunged into a downward spiral from its disastrous military intervention in Libya in 2011 – the most serious foreign policy error of the entire Fifth Republic.

Late in the game, France had embraced the regime change policies of the American neo-conservatives. By destroying the Gaddafi regime, with no alternative, France plunged Libya into a state of chaos from which it has still not emerged. What’s more, the ex-dictator’s weapons were looted and then spread throughout the Sahel, where they soon destabilised France’s friends Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.

From 2013 onwards, France began a second war, in an attempt to repair the effects of the first. But failing to restore the security that existed in Gaddafi’s time in the Sahel, France provoked frustration and then mistrust among the population.

Barkhane has taught us a lesson: never again interfere in Africa’s internal affairs on the pretext of defending “democracy”.

Demographically, Africa is the youngest continent on the planet. Its immense resources will give it a central role in the world economy in the medium term. Culturally, France has a comparative advantage.

We must make the most of it, and help those who ask us to. And refrain from giving lessons.

This article was first published in Le Figaro. 

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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