The French woman behind the downfall of many African politicians

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Pictorial representation of prostitution (image courtesy of Michael from Pixabay)

Intelligence is certainly vital in politics and leadership in general and has always been used. Spies are the key actors and they are sent by the leader of one camp to obtain information on their rivals. In African history, the seminal book Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali (1960) by Guinean writer Djibril Tamsir Niane captures the tactic used by Sundiata, the king and hero in the Mali Kingdom to “milk” intelligence from his opponent Sumaoro. The former sent a young lady who seduced the latter into revealing the magic that could lead to his defeat. A plan was then set in motion to bring about the downfall of the giant. Female spies have been used for the orchestration of the demise of many great personalities including politicians or artists of high calibre. In Africa, a French woman, popularly known as Madame Claude, made history in that regard. She ran a “high class” brothel that sent girls to glean intelligence from politicians, several of whom were subsequently assassinated.

Madame Claude was born Fernande Grudet in July 1923 in Angers (Western France). In 1950, she left her humble beginnings behind and settled in Paris where she changed her name to Claude and became involved in the sex trade, an activity through which she met and befriended violent men and hardened criminals. Some of those tough guys were the product of post-World War II France. She later put in place a circle of young girls who were remarkably beautiful and promoted romantic involvements between them and high profile personalities. Approximately 25 girls constituted her regular squad of workers, and many others occasionally offered their services.

Madame Claude was said to have approximately 500 girls working for her. In Call-girl du Tout-Paris (2021) by Patricia Herszman, who herself worked for Madame Claude, she writes that some of the girls did that job because they were very poor but extremely pretty, and adds that the job was risky since certain girls were killed on the “job” by their clients. The majority of those male clients were also the victims and hailed from various areas: an American top politician, Arab kings and princes, movie and music stars and African influential politicians and presidents. Madame Claude used to boast that she was the best maquerelle (brothel keeper) of the century and that her job meant “making the vice beautiful”, by selecting the most attractive girls in Paris. She is generally referred to as “the most famous pimp in France”. The term “call girl” is said to have originated from Madame Claude’s business, since the connections were initiated with phone calls that ensured privacy and comfort for the male clients.

She became so influential that the French secret service hired her services. She operrated as an agent with the code name “Violette”. The girls practised what was called “confessions sur l’oreiller” or “pillow talk”, which means gathering information/intelligence with the trust generated by intimacy. When the girls were sent to key African politicians, big shots in the judiciary, diplomats, justice, ministers, high raking military and police officers, as well as presidents, they indulged in pillow talk. The girls were debriefed by French secret agents once they had spent some time with their clients. This type of intelligence gathering led to one of the most unfortunate cases that shook the arena of resistance and radicalism in Africa: the assassination of the first president of Chad, François Tombalbaye on 13 April 1975. The relations between Tombalbaye and France were sour since he was appalled at the fact that France paid no attention to the realities in African countries, and only France’s interests counted.  The root of the tragedy lay in the fact that while he was being intimate with one of the girls, the former president mentioned that he was working towards severing all ties with France. A little while after that “fatal” mistake, President Tombalbaye was shot dead in a coup led by soldiers, as political scientist Éric DÉNÉCÉ, the director of the French Center for Research on Intelligence, mentioned in an interview aired by the TV program Un jour un destin. The researcher stated that Madame Claude’s call girls were used to keep post-independence Francophone Africa under French control.

Such betrayals, which contributed to changing the political scene in Africa and other continents, could not go unpunished and Madame Claude ultimately ran into trouble with the law. When former French President Georges Pompidou, who condoned and used the activities of this gang of spies for the political interest of his country died in 1974 and Giscard d’Estaing took over, Madame Claude was accused of tax fraud, and her organization dismantled. She was jailed for some time and later fled to the US. She eventually returned to France where she lived clandestinely. She died in 2015 and her life provided the basis for movies like Madame Claude (1977), directed by Just Jaeckin. Recent publications are emerging on her and one of them is Madame Claude: le parfum du secret (2022) by French writer Erwan L’ÉLÉOUET, a compilation of revelations on her.

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast.

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  1. You’ve reminded me of a shady personality of yester-year who I’d almost forgotten about.

    “The Delilah Technique and the Fall of Man” may perhaps be a good study for a Religions, Sociology or Political Science scholar to undertake one day.

  2. Who said women are the ‘weaker sex ‘! I’ve always had a problem with that reference because this is the gender that makes and unmakes men. May these new crop of African leaders Traore, Keita, Dougbenya and Kagame never fall for this because they are the true sons of Africa and enemies of the West. Again, everything is possible with the woman so let’s fear them

  3. Good morning! I think, the question about spies is not done but it is still ongoing up to now. That’s why the behaviour of some African presidents is not surprising, the way they’re betraying their people by helping their mentors to pillage our resources and allow them to have a full control all over our country; because their received their own Madame Claude therefore their mentors buried many secrets for them in exchange for having the control over their countries. Thanks

  4. Thanks so much for insight into the happenings in Africa. Mmm, God save African leaders from these types of ladies.

  5. Many thanks for rich remarkable article. We always learned somethings New from you.
    Thank you.

  6. I’m very excited reading this piece.
    Madame Claude was really intelligent! She did well in one breathe and also succeeded in causing innocent ladies to lose their lives on the other hand.
    the several trials of Madame Claude then, to me were needles.
    I wish she were still alive and run this business on the African heartless and greedy politicians.
    I really enjoyed this revelation!
    Good morning Traore for this display of mastery of knowledge on this Continent.
    …. Sakara Mumuni..

  7. Your titular caption sent waves down my spine considering how francophone Africa has been remote controlled by France post independent. Your graphical representation of the issue of betrayal as a post-colonial discourse in African literature and politics is suiting. However, the title is an echo of the patriarchal beliefs that has time and again painted the feminine from oxymoronic perspective as the satanic angle. I think you would have done us a greater good by commenting on the sexual desires of married African male politicians whose sexual gratifications have seen them fallen like the Biblical Sampson. In as much as I agree with Madam Claude’s practices as illicit, the role of the men towards popularizing the brothel escape needs condemnation. Don’t you honestly think is the relegation of women into the background in most post-colonial Africa governance and the hardship that put most women and young girls into such practices? Thanks for bringing the past to the present to help us know the future.

  8. Wow! France has been on a journey to destroy Africa not today. Their cup is getting full. Today’s Africans are not the Africans of the1970s.

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