What is la Francafrique without coups, despots, and nepotism?

Monday September 11 2023

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) shakes hands with President Ali Bongo Ondimba (R) during a bilateral meeting at Presidential Palace in Libreville, Gabon on March 1, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


So, there have been some coups in West Africa. In countries which are French-speaking, and which belong to the group of African countries dubbed la Francafrique. The nickname came about because the French model of colonisation was quite different from the Anglo model.

Theories of race and racial hierarchy were a bit looser, leading to more intermingling of people and culture even as France and Frenchness remained the ultimate characteristics.

People who were not European in origin could ascend to Frenchness via culture, birthright, language, association, work, even becoming part of the nobility. What Shonda Rimes can only imagine in her version of The Bridgertons was happening to a small extent in the French colonial experience.

Which makes the relationship between France and her former colonies very different from that of Britain and her former colonies. As such, it has been fun watching Anglophone media and Kiswahili media analyse and comment on the happenings in West Africa.

Read: NGUGI: Coups don’t solve a thing - neither do corrupt regimes

The biases and limitations seem stark. Although we profess some overarching Africanness, some kind of intrinsic quality or character that we all have by virtue of melanin and geography, it is basically fictional. A construct, just like any other social construct.


It doesn’t make it not-real, it can be as real as we want it to be for purposes of our own belief. But it is not science-real. You cannot wake up in Dar es Salaam with no experience of Francafrique and depend on the power of melanin to give you insight into the political psychology of Ouagadougou. That’s some Wakanda level magick.

I guess it should be shocking that West African countries are still using coups as the transition mechanism for political leadership, but is it really?

Some countries haven’t had a moment of dispassionate, bureaucratic governance since their nominal independence.

Some have had their currency tied to the Franc from day one. Some have never had the training wheels taken off their state, and as such are mired in a weird and gross codependence with France and by proxy Switzerland which lurks in the background happily banking the monies that African presidents and others siphon from their public’s funds.

In countries that have happily fudged the line between presidency and monarchy, which were colonised by a country that is more politically fluid than Britain could ever hope to be, is it really that unusual to see despots, nepotism and coups?

Read: ULIMWENGU: Is the much needed Second Liberation here?

This is not a judgement, by the way. Governance problems exist everywhere, it is just a matter of knowing which flavour of governance one is dealing with. I do not ascribe to the brutish Anglo notion that everything can simply be understood through standardised, dichotomous perspectives: Is it a democracy/is it not? In some cases, especially in Africa, the answer is just “yes.”

A country can be both, neither, a little bit something else. And in Africa, these distinctions and nuances run along linguistic lines that are tied directly to the former colonies. The flavour, the DNA of a modern African state must carry in it its parentage.

Which begs the question, are we Africanists deluded in our ambitions for the continent? Is it time to talk, really talk, about the Four or More Africas? So that we can be of real help, not helpless handwringing when coups happen in Francafrique? Peut etre. See you next week.