This past week, I went back to considering the bizarre relationship between France and its African ex-colonies, in light of what has been happening in the West African sub-region recently.
Now, let me say, again, that colonialism is evil, full stop. It does not serve any purpose to split hairs between the different types of colonialism, purporting to grade them according to “good” and “bad” (we know that in slave communities over the ages, slaves are known to have engaged in heated conversations around which one of their masters was the best, in terms of how they treated their slaves, how they fed them, how they dressed them, how much “freedom” they let them have, and such like cant).
The African colonies, in which different types of colonialism were in evidence, and where neither the British nor the French meant well by their African subjects, we see no essential difference in treatment, even though the French, in a mocking vein, would make their African subjects sing — without any sense of irony —“Our ancestors were the Gauls”.
The French idea that Africans were “macaques” was very much in evidence in many countries under their rule, even when a certain selected number of the “evolved" Africans were made French citizens, even members of parliament (such as Leopold Cedar Senghor) and ministers (Felix Houphouet-Boingy).
Apart from these subtle forms of psycho-cultural violence, brute physical violence was meted out to French colonial subjects every time they were met with implacable resistance to foreign domination.
So, just as the British reacted with ferocious force against the rebel American settlers in the 1770s and the Kenyan patriots of the Mau Mau in the 1950s, the French met their own resistant Viet Minh in Indochina in the 1940s and in Algeria in the 1950s.
With the so-called “Wind of Change” of the early 1950s, which convinced the British colonial masters — after the Kenya debacle — to dare think of abandoning their “possessions,” the French thought of a midway between total departure and a hallway house, where they could leave but not depart, maintaining a stranglehold on their colonial fiefdoms though allowing an empty “flag independence.”
In effect France’s Charles de Gaulle, then French head of state, made a round of African colonies proposing an “independence”, with heavy chains still tying these countries to Paris.
To wit, he proposed the creation of la communaute financiere africaine, creating an umbilical cord in which France and its former colonies became “partners” in an economic “community” where the former colonies would deposit substantial amounts of their reserves with the French treasury, in exchange for military and security protection, etc.
Only one of the French colonies, Guinea under Ahmed Sekou Toure, rejected this preposterous offer notion in the 1958 “Non!”vote, which scandalised the French, who no doubt thought they had proposed such a good future for France and her “friends,” only for Sekou Toure to piss on it. Such ingratitude after all France had done for them!
France’s reaction was imminent and implacable. Everything, including stationery, telephones, wastepaper baskets, brooms, air fans, nails, pencils, erasers, spoons, forks, knives, pins and staplers were collected and sent to France, just to punish this Guinean ingratitude.
For many years after that, Sekou Ture was treated as a pariah, even by his fellow Africans, especially the next-door neighbours Senegal and Ivory Coast, who could not understand his haughty arrogance before le Grand General.
Guinea under Sekou Toure became synonymous with poverty, amidst plenty. The country, though richly endowed with natural resources and a wondrously fertile countryside, was neither able to produce the minerals for its people to prosper in trade nor to organise farming for its people to feed themselves.
Soon, it could not produce enough for the people to eat, and young men and women left in droves to find something to do in Dakar, Abidjan and Monrovia.
In many such cases, one finds it hard to determine whether it was Guinea’s uncompromising stance faced with de Gaulle’s neo-colonial project that caused such suffering, or whether it was the same old mismanagement that every African country has been subjected to that has made Guinea as poor as all the other countries in the region.
Let us face it, whereas it is not easy to show whence each country’s misfortune arose, what we can say is that they are all in the same boat: Poor, miserable and clueless. Looking at the map of the sub-region from Chad through Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Benin, Ghana, etc, with one or two half-exceptions, where is the difference?
If one wanted to start somewhere, where it makes sense, one would follow the recent military coup leaders, who have done away with neo-colonial regimes dependent on France and started taking measures to set free their capacities of intervention, such as resetting the prices of such vital materials as uranium.
It would be such a salutary thing if all African countries followed suit and if the African Union stopped harrying these young soldiers, who have shown a willingness to give the French a run for their money. Who would have thought of such a thing as declaring that the French language is not a national language? This would be the beginning of Africa’s Second Liberation.
Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]