Françafrique is generally known to be the means through which France maintains her sovereignty and control over her former colonies and those of Belgium. In other words, it is France’s sphere of influence in sub-Saharan Africa, or France’s pré-carré (backyard). The term was initially France-Afrique, coined in 1955 by Félix Houphouёt Boigny, the first president of Côte d’Ivoire, referring to the close ties between his country and France. That was the beginning of Africa’s self-subjugation to the hegemony of France. With time, some critics unveiled the imperialistic ambitions and manoeuvres behind the term and rebranded it as “Françafrique”. The French economist and political scientist François-Xavier Verschave is the brain behind that 1998 movement that criticized the alleged corrupt and clandestine activities of various Franco-African political, economic and military networks, affiliated with Françafrique.
When most African countries gained independence around 1959, France continued to maintain her grip over her former colonies in order to preserve what was the vision of the then President Charles de Gaulle as a global power (or grandeur) and as a bulwark to British and American influence in a post-colonial world. The US also encouraged the existence of this neo-colonial “instrument” which was very efficient in countering the influence of the Soviet Union in parts of Africa. After the Cold War, the Françafrique weakened, partly due to the death of the main proponents of that neo-colonial policy (French business men and politicians like Jacques Foccart, Charles Pasqua and former President François Mitterrand) and also because France joined the European Union. The multiple coups d’état in Africa and the economic crises in those countries also made them less attractive to France.
Of vital importance in the discussion on Françafrique is the power it gave to France in her mission to make it impossible for Francophone Africa to flourish. Through the channel of Françafrique, the Paris governments put in place measures which are generally lumped together under the general concept of neocolonialism. France adopted exactly 11 measures which were called “agreements”, to be adhered to by African governments in one way or another, except certain “revolutionary” and military regimes, that opposed some of those measures. But they were too robust to be dismantled by a single country or one single leader. Many African countries are envious of the herculean blow that the current military regime in power in Mali administered to the most dangerous remnants of Françafrique. The critical eight out of 11 agreements (signed between Mali and France in 1959) that were meant to keep Francophone Africa in general in abject poverty and perpetual political instability were revoked months ago in Mali. After Francophone countries became independent, 14 of them signed those 11 agreements. Essentially the agreements are as follows: The finances of the African francophone countries were appropriated by France; all mineral and other natural resources of Africa were considered the possessions of France, unless she refused those resources; they were required to present annual financial statements to France; French construction companies were given priority in the construction of structures in Africa; military equipment could be acquired (purchased) from France only; army officers were to be trained by French instructors only; France had the right to intervene militarily in Africa in order to protect French interests; no military alliances could be formed with any other country apart from France, except in cases where France allowed it; the Francophone African countries were obliged to ally themselves with France in times of war or international crisis; French was deemed to be the official language and the language of education.
The 11 agreements (or “real diktats”) are still applied in the 14 sub-Saharan Francophone African countries and no mention is made of them, even by those who consider themselves to be specialists on Africa. These 11 agreements are what attracted the wrath of France onto Mali, since the 2021 coup d’état (after that of 2020) that brought Colonel Assimi Goita to power. That second coup is a national historic event that unleashed new choices like the emergence of a strong alliance and military co-operation between Mali and Russia. It might help to remind readers of the fact that this total alliance with Russia was arrived at, after the civilian government of transition in Mali led by President Bah N’daw realized that the military members of that government (the then Vice President Colonel Goita and his allies) were working towards a rapprochement with Russia and leaked that information to France. President Macron then ordered the then civilian transitional government to put in place a new government, with no military member or minister. That led to the second coup d’état in Mali (led by Goita), and the current rupture that we are witnessing between Bamako and Paris.
Burkina Faso has also ended all forms of cooperation with the former colonial master and Guinea does not seem to be in the good books of France anymore. Steps are being taken toward a federation of these three former French colonies, and the buzz word for the conscientious youth in today’s Africa in general is “the end of all forms of collaboration with former colonial powers, right now.” The slogan on their lips is “Homeland or death, we shall overcome!”. Does this send shock waves to the leaders of the remaining 11 countries of the deceased or moribund Françafrique? Young military officers are being closely monitored in those remaining 11 countries, so that the influence of the three young military presidents of Mali, Guinea and Burkina does not extrapolate to those remaining countries of Françafrique, where economic prosperity, peace and security do not exist, to speak frankly.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.