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  • Agoston Sikos

The Economic and Political Foundations of France in Africa and Its Position Until the Coups

Agoston Sikos is a second-year student studying History, Politics and Economics at UCL. He interned at the Special Analyses Department of the State Audit Office of Hungary and in M&A at MBH Bank.

The opinions expressed in this article reflect the opinions of its author(s). They do not represent the views of UCL's Diplomacy Society, Diplomacy Review nor The Diplomat.

Gabon's coup leader General Brice Oligui Nguema

The African continent is a treasure trove of natural resources. Fourteen of the post-colonial  countries, former colonies of France formed the basis of the economic and diplomatic sphere  of influence of the Fifth French Republic in the second half of the twentieth century on the  continent. However, the Central African Republic’s (CAR) Russian-dominated politics and  France’s recent forced withdrawals from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Gabon, have seen  France lose its grip on Western and Central Africa. In the following paragraphs, this article  examines the history of the French in Africa since the Second World War and the economic  system that emerged at that time in the French sphere of influence in Africa. Finally, it examines Russian, Chinese and American policies on the continent and the countermeasures  of President Macron in the face of the new challenges up until the recent fall of French might. 

Under domestic and foreign pressures, the French government oversaw the decolonisation of  its African colonies from 1958 onwards. In place of the empire, an informal sphere of influence  was created, whose formation was overseen by Jacques Foccart, a long-standing associate of  President Charles de Gaulle. The system depended on personal ties to the new African leaders and on a new economic system. The basis of this system was the CFA franc, a currency issued  in France which was created in 1939 and made official in 1945. This gave the 14 newly  independent French colonies two stable currencies and full monetary control over these lands  for France³. Two currencies, as there were two CFA francs (the West African CFA franc (under  the first presidency of Mr. Macron it was decided to be renamed ECO) and the African CFA  franc Centrale), which are now pegged to the euro (after the adoption of the euro by France).  Originally, France obliged the new countries to place 50% of their foreign exchange reserves  in the French treasury (although in reality up until 1973 this ratio stood at 100% and at 65%  between 1973 and 2005), plus 20% additional expenses for financial liabilities. On the other  hand, the institution of the French public aid was established, which is a financial aid France  can decide to provide to countries in its sphere of influence. Aid too, however, enhanced the political and economic power of France in the region, as well as being a truly lucrative tool,  because most of the aid is used by the benefactor countries to purchase French equipment and  products. In addition, French multinational companies were granted exclusive rights to  purchase or reject natural resources extracted from the soil (crude oil, natural gas, uranium,  diamonds, gold, iron, etc.). France has been active militarily as well, the most recent military  campaigns under President Hollande being against Jihadist organisations. 

Into this world three great powers arrived: China, Russia and the United States. Chinese  presence is a new phenomenon. The country expanded by providing loans to governments and  building robust infrastructure, such as ports and factories. China (PRC) has also established Confucius Institutes, where children learn the Chinese language and can be ameliorated to the  PRC. Chinese money, however, has barely reached France's sphere of influence. Although  Beijing has paid for some projects in countries such as Côte d'Ivoire and Gabon. For France,  the true menace became Russia. Russia uses education as a tool just like China, but it prefers  to rely on mercenaries. The Wagner Group helped African rebels establish regimes independent  of France, replacing the latter as the guardian of the lands. The United States entered the  African continent because of the expansion of its two main rivals, Russia and China. The  Biden administration invited African governments to Washington DC and promised financial  support to African countries. While the United States, an ally of France, did not directly harm French interests, its arrival and expansion diminished French relative power on the continent  too.

The expansion of China, the United States, and above all Russia weakened France in Africa and this phenomenon was aggravated by anti-French sentiments in the former colonies of  France. To counter these dangers, President Macron’s France gave an energetic response. It  rearranged its armed forces after the withdrawal from Mali and Burkina Faso, while  simultaneously it announced the reduction of French armed forces in Africa. On the diplomatic  front line, however, the president went on the offensive. He heralded a new era of French  politics in Africa. But it was proved not to be effective. In quite simple terms, the Africans  would not believe it. All presidents since Giscard d'Estaing outlined a new African agenda,  promising profound changes in the relationships and behaviours that never came², in turn  discrediting French promises. Nevertheless, the president initiated a new relationship between  France and African countries. An important symbolism of this line of diplomacy was when he  invited young people from Western and Central African countries to France, where he met with  them at Marseille. He also toured the African countries themselves. In his speeches, he sought  to strengthen ties between France and French-speaking countries by emphasising the  importance of the French language. He acclaimed that the French language will be the greatest language in Africa and later in the world as well. Seeing the success of the Russians and the  Chinese, the president also promised more funding for schools. Macron's government reformed the economic system as well. As part of the planned reforms, the CFA countries of West Africa were freed from the obligation to keep 50% of their foreign exchange reserves in the French treasury. 

Despite the energetic policies of President Macron, the French countermeasures proved to be  ineffectual against the forces of two antagonistic great powers and the strong unpopularity of  France in Africa. France still holds onto parts of its once wast sphere of influence but the  departure of the CAR, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Gabon from it brought France’s 

monopole position to an end in Western and Central Africa.


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