Sunday, December 19, 2010

Imperial History, Imperial Attitudes,

As I was watching a French documentary on 'Françafrique' (a term that refers to the political and economic relations between France and Africa), I couldn't help drawing a parallel between France's policy in Africa and the United-States' in Latin America.
Both France and the U.S. have supported authoritarian regimes and instigated coups for economic (oil, raw materials) and idealogical reasons (the cold war) in their respective 'backyards', through their military and secret operations and mercenary expeditions for the profit of private companies.

Of course, there are also huge differences: France had been a colonist power (and imposed its language) and as such, it has "special ties" to its former colonies, whereas the U.S. was merely an imperial power de facto. The other major difference is that Françafrique was also a network that financed French politicians and political parties until recently. It was a political scandal that did not bring down any politician.

Interestingly, since the end of the cold war, there has been a backlash as both our 'backyards' have cut ties if not revolted against both our countries to the point that questions about losing our control of our backyards have been asked in both our countries - Latin America to socialism and to war on terror - think of the pink tide in Latin America - (see here as well) and Africa to the Chinese, the Russians and even to the Americans.

Well, of course, our countries will not let go without a fight: the US continues to play a major role in Latin America, through Free Trade Agreement or even a strong military presence (here).
As for France, its oil firms (Total) and other private companies (such as Bouygues or more impressively, Boloré whose CEOs are friends of the French president - here and here) continue to play a major economic role. Politically, the latest developments in Ivory Coast have also shown that Sarkozy is willing to keep France as a key player.

One last point, the vast majority of French and American people are either clueless about what the policies of their countries in those 'backyards' of theirs. Well, they don't know and don't want to know. They will not see, for instance, that the immigration that some French or Americans fear is also in part the result of French and American plunder of the local economies where the immigrants live. After all, the Africans have been 'independent' for 50 years and the Hispanics have their own countries - the say.

As a conclusion, one can look at the events unfolding in Ivory Coast with a different perspective - this country that used to be the jewel in the crown of the post-colonial African empire of France for decades.
Even though Gbagbo has some nasty politics (such as his xenophobic concept of “Ivoirité”, or Ivorianness), even though he has also instigated a coup, AND even though Ouattara (his opponent) is probably the legitimate elected president, France should not mingle. precisely because it has lots of interests at stake, 15,000 nationals in the country and zero credibility when it comes to supporting African democracies.
Of course, Gbagbo has been using anti-French sentiment, indeed:
French opprobrium could strengthen the hand of the populist leader, who has claimed to be the victim of neo-imperialist conspiracies. (FT)
But of course, Sarkozy is not necessarily the most subtle leader France has had while trying , like any other President, to hold on to French elite's sense of empowerment.

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