France: Macron on Africa – denying French imperialism

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Fourteen African countries, including Burkina Faso (above), continue to pay colonial tax to France

On 8 July at the G20 conference in Hamburg, French President Emmanuel Macron was asked about the possibility of creating for Africa something like the Marshall Plan which was used to fund European reconstruction following the Second World War. The ‘social-liberal’ president responded by stating that the continent’s contemporary problems are ‘civilizational’ rather than developmental. A major source of the continent’s troubles, according to this ‘centrist’, was African women each having ‘seven or eight’ children. He added that a ‘simple money transfer’ is not the answer. These comments are a reactionary denial of the root of Africa’s problems – imperialism.

A 2014 report by Curtis Research, Honest Accounts? The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses, found that 47 countries classified as ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ by the World Bank suffer a net loss of $58bn a year.1 While $134bn flows in, predominately in the form of loans, foreign investment and ‘aid’, $192bn flows out, mainly in the form of profits of neo-colonial foreign companies, tax dodging and the costs of adapting to climate change. Africa is being drained of the resources it needs for development to maintain the wealth of the imperialist powers.

After nominal independence, which most French colonies achieved in 1960, France still needed access to Africa’s energy resources to ensure its policy of ‘energy independence’. President De Gaulle set up Elf (now Total), the state energy company, and authorised its CEO, Pierre Guillomat, to finance secret operations in Africa. These operations were organised by the SDECE, France’s foreign intelligence services and were facilitated by the existence of the ‘Foccart network’ of French politicians, businessmen and corrupt African elites. The purpose was to ensure ‘stability’, by which was meant secure access to oil and other resources.

After Algerian independence in 1962, when the revolutionary government in Algeria cut off French access to Saharan oil, West African oil became of key importance. Absolutely crucial is Gabon, where France has supported the dictatorship of Omar Bongo and then his son Ali since 1968. French security officials have admitted knowledge of election rigging on many occasions.

After Guinea declared independence in 1958, two years earlier than the date decreed by France, and moved closer to the socialist bloc, the SDECE attempted to destabilise Guinea. One of its operatives, Maurice Robert, orchestrated the counterfeiting of the Guinean Franc, flooding the country with fake money in an attempt to cause an inflation spiral. When this failed, the SDECE simply armed President Sekou Touré’s opponents.

In 1994, the ‘Elf scandal’ came to light. ‘Royalties’ amounting to millions of dollars a year were paid by the company to corrupt African politicians and elites both in order to ensure it would be Elf which pumped their oil and to ensure continued allegiance to France. Off the back of this scheme, France used countries like Gabon as a base for military and espionage activities across West Africa.

Currently, 14 African countries in two blocs use the CFA Franc as a currency. The currency was set up after the Second World War as part of the neo-colonial settlement imposed on France’s ex-colonies. These 14 countries have little control over their monetary policy. Due to the free convertibility of the CFA Franc into the euro, capital can move freely into France without any oversight, greatly facilitating corrupt and illegal capital flight into tax havens. A 2010 report by Global Financial Integrity found that the amount of illegal financial outflows from the CFA Franc region was $48bn between 1970 and 2008.2 The French military currently has about 4,000 soldiers deployed in five countries in the Sahel, including Mali and Niger, both of which have important reserves of oil, diamonds, uranium and other resources extracted by foreign corporations and both of which use the CFA Franc. France maintains military bases in Gabon, Senegal and Djibouti. Since 2000 France has intervened militarily in five African countries, including playing a key role in the destabilisation of Libya, which has gone from being Africa’s most developed country to a warzone with a revived trade in enslaved black Africans.

Colonial debt also stalks Africa today. For example, France invaded Madagascar in 1895. France imposed heavy taxes on the Malagasy people as reimbursement for the cost to the French of the invasion, and because French colonies were supposed to be fiscally ‘self-supporting’. This required them to cover the costs of building the colonial infrastructure necessary to efficiently exploit the resources and the people of the country. When, in 1947-8, the Malagasy people rebelled against this injustice, up to 110,000 were slaughtered and prominent nationalists arrested and executed. The debt imposed on Madagascar during this period remains on the books, and was part of the justification given by the IMF for imposing drastic austerity on the country. Cuts to a malaria prevention programme led to a huge outbreak in the highlands. 10,000 people died. The human cost of French imperialism in Africa is incalculable.

In 2008, then French President Jacques Chirac summed up the parasitic nature of France’s relationship with Africa. He said that ‘without Africa, France will smoothly go down to the rank of a third world power’. A representative of the ‘liberal’ wing of the ruling class, Macron must deny the exploitative relationship. His statement that a ‘simple money transfer’ is not the answer to the continent’s problems relies on a denial of the very real transfers of wealth that are flowing out of Africa into France. Africa’s problems are not ‘civilizational’ – whatever that means – they are the fruit of imperialism.

Since coming to power, Macron has pursued the path necessary to solve the crisis in the interests of French capital. He has continued and increased budget cuts, such as to women’s organisations and housing benefit, which has brought an abrupt end to his ‘honeymoon period’ as his approval ratings fell by 10%. He has also, contradictorily, announced an €850m cut to the military budget, which provoked the resignation of General Pierre de Villiers, the military chief of staff. This cut is simply one part of the €60bn of savings pledged over the next five years, but it has caused huge political disputes, including from within Macron’s own party. The reason Macron gave for the cuts was to bring the country’s deficit below the EU’s limit of 3% of GDP. He has still pledged to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2025, bringing it to €50bn in line with NATO targets. In 2018, the only government department which will see an increase in spending will be the military, a plan which Macron has labelled ‘unprecedented’, telling soldiers: ‘I want you to understand how important this is.’

Macron favours greater integration of the EU imperialist bloc in order to compete with the US, Japan and China. He and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have already announced, on 13 July, the Eurodrone project to develop Europe’s first fleet of military drones by 2020. Armed Forces Minister Sylvie Goulard, a German-speaker, has said she is ‘committed to making European defence projects move forward’. De Villiers need not have worried: both nationally and within Europe, the French military will receive the funds it needs to maintain French imperialism.

Séamus Padraíc

1. Honest Accounts? The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses, July 2014

2. Dev Kar and Devon Cartwright-Smith, Illicit financial flows from Africa: hidden resource for development, 2010

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 259 August/September 2017