Monday, January 13, 2020 10:41 pm
The macabre dance of France in West Africa is a serious matter. It therefore does not permit a hearty guffaw on the torment of a desperate neo-colonial master in the sub-region. As the contours of the French ECO in West Africa continue to emerge, the desperation of France to consolidate its hegemonic status in West Africa becomes clearer. France has no other option. For, without the exploitative bear hug with Africa, France would be greatly diminished. This strategic imperative has been imposed on it by, as we earlier observed, by the challenging certainties and frightful uncertainties thrown up by the rapid transformations in the global strategic configuration.
Nigeria, with its internal warts and all, is still a potential critical element in the rational calculus of the strategic permutations of elite state actors in the system. A Nigeria with expansive influence in its sub region significantly alters the balance of influence in Africa. Meanwhile, the relative global strategic construction in its current a sate flux is characterized by the rise of China, the debility of the liberal world order and, associated with it, the implied revalidation of the extreme right ideology across Europe, North and South America. Along with this are the dwindling internal cohesion and a depleting coherence in the world views and policies within the leadership of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the largest post World War II military alliance in the world, a very assertive Russia seemingly constantly in league with Beijing at the slightest indication of systemic tension. These complexities have been further compounded by Brexit and the reinvigoration of the historic alliance between Great Britain and the United States of America. This historic alliance holds irrespective of the character and proclivities as well as the ideological orientations of the occupants of the White House and 10 Downing Street.
These developments have clear unsavory implications for an Africa immovable from its destructive sovereign fixations. The situation makes clear demands on external forces that aim to perpetuate their control of the continent well ito the young millennium. France.
Of the developments at the international level the rise of China as arguably the leading world economy surpassing that of the United States and as a leading global power significantly alterst the structure of economic and, by implications, global political relations. Chinese ascendance in global power hierarchy and preeminent economy has reverberated in Africa. China has since 2009 emerged as Africa’s largest trading partner. It has entered into bilateral agreements with at least 40 countries on the continent. China’s trade with Africa reached $148 billion in 2017, down from a high of $215 billion in 2014.
In the first half of 2019, China’s total import and export volume with Africa was $101.86 billion. The intensity of the thrust of Chinese incursion into Africa is unfolding against a background of deleterious revolution of Africa’s relations with France. In the renewed race for the expansion of spheres of influence in Africa, the United States of America, France and Great Britain are the leading competitors from the West. This makes the trio the preeminent resisters of China in Africa.
At this time, Africa’s relations with France are particularly vulnerable. The passing away of the old despotic dinosaurs, notably Felix Houphouet Boigny in Cote d’Ivoire and Omar Ondimba Bongo in Gabon, put in office and sustained by France, has had a withering impact on France’s continued domination of its alimentary holdings. In the wake of the rise of a new society of young and questioning Africans not sold or even contemptuous of the character of the subversive and subservient relations between France and its Africans, France is harvesting a season of discontentment and alienation against the metropole in francophone Africa, This is especially so in West Africa. The most prominent of these harvests was in Cote d’Ivoire, where a historic tactical blunder by France facilitated the emergence of Pan Africanist Laurent Gbagbo, a professor of history, and the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) as President and ruling party of the leading proxy state and dominant economy in francophone West Africa.
Laurent Gbagbo’s agenda included working to bridge the artificial divide between Anglo and Franco phone West Africa and to integrate Cote d’Ivoire into the mainstream of West African politics and economy. He, somewhat exuberantly, proclaimed that there was only one language in Cote d’Ivoire: “English, English, English!” Laurent Gbagbo’s main constituency was the enlightened Ivorian youth that were born in post independent era. They mobilized under the banner of the FPI aligned Young Patriots whose main goal was to severe Cote d’Ivoire from France. More recent harvests of alienation from France have been in Burkina Faso and Mali. In both countries massive anti-France rallies erupted during the visit of French president Emmanuel Macron in 2019 to demand the withdrawal of French troops ostensibly collaborating with local forces to defeat jihadist militants. Disenchanted Malians affirm that French help in fighting the insurgency had exacerbated the problem. Grenades were thrown at the French military personnel on sight at the rallies.
It is against this background that French government in October, 2019 announced plans to step up efforts to strengthen ties with the African continent. It added that it wanted Africa to forget the colonial past and get on with trade. The France induced transformation of the CFA into the West African Eco is a part of the strategic arsenal to consolidate its flailing hegemonic status in the sub-region. To achieve this objective, France has to derail any attempt to integrate the economies of Francophone and Anglophone in West Africa. This is consistent with strategic policy that any initiative to integrate Africa poses a threat to its national interest. The transformation of the CFA to the Eco is thus designed to consolidate the status quo in West Africa. It is revealing of the French agenda and its contempt for Africa, that according to theAfrica report the joint press conference of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara and his French counterpart on 21 December 2019 suggested that the UEMOA states are throwing off the shackles of French colonialism by adopting a new currency, the Eco, beginning from the middle 2020.
TheAfricareport observed that coordinating the French initiative with the wider ECOWAS grouping could prove complicated, Indeed, it is certain that the French West African Eco was not designed for the wider ECOWAS community. The Eco was designed to keep apart the economies of francophone West Africa from the Anglophones. The features of the Eco are that:
• Between now and the Eco’s likely debut in July 2020, the eight member states of the UEMOA and France will sign a highly symbolic agreement to do away with the operations account with the French Treasury and to replace it with a guarantee agreement;
• This agreement will be accompanied by an exchange of letters written in very technical language to organize the transformation of what is effectively an unlimited overdraft provided by France to an unlimited line of credit.
Other features highlighted in the Africareport are that the BCEAO’s reserves will be transferred to at least one European central bank in the form of securities,. The bulk of the UMOEA’s monetary reserves is in Euros. Some reserves may also be transferred to the Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements.(BIS). Meanwhile, countries are required to deposit all foreign currency reserves at the BCEAO. Even though there is no agreement on this, France insists that the reserves of all participating countries must be pooled for it to provide its guarantee,
The ECO will inherit the pegging to the Euro at the same exchange of the outgoing CFA that would be gradually phased out as the Eco is progressively consolidated. But there is no agreement yet on whether the exchange rate would be flexible as preferred by a minority of states or a fixed rate that is the preference of majority of countries. Yet the biggest obstacle to the transition from UEMOA to a single all embracing ECOWAS currency is perceived as the fact that Anglophone ECOWAS states are not part of the current CFA franc zone. Were it possible to surmount this challenge, the fact that France would still retain the responsibility to manage the external reserves of countries participating in its guaranteed Eco regime reveals the fact that nothing, the except the usurpation of the Eco as a name, has really changed from the old CFA. Participating countries will be expected to deposit all their foreign currency reserves at the BCEAO and all must comply with this requirement for France to guarantee the funds to be deposited by the BCEAO with one European Central Bank.
The French Eco in West Africa is thus one major element of the response of France to the imperative to consolidate its hold on its pre carre in West Africa and Central Africa. Given the ineluctable reality of its sliding hold on West Africa, France’s currency engagement in West Africa is only a first step in a titanic struggle that is just unfolding. In its determination to maintain its historic hold France has other options against those who contemplate defecting from its orbit of hegemonic control. . And they are terrible options. Experts note that it has become conventional wisdom that state fragility is associated with violent conflict. It is also by acknowledged by these experts that state fragility not only affects the citizens of the state and society in question, but also impact neighboring states. In essence, in the face of massive transformations in societies of its neo colonial West Africa and their rude and uncivil demands for the disengagement of its entrenched institutions of neo colonial subjugation, the struggle of France to consolidate the status quo in West Africa has just begun.
The Eco ambush of the sub region is only a beginning. France would react violently to any one francophone head of state that rejects its hollow attempt to deceive the world that the Eco represents a fresh new beginning of respectable relations with Africa. The historic 1958 No of Sekou Toure to Charles de Gaul’s diktat for hollow independence for Guinea remains fresh in memory. France decided to send Guinea back to the stone age. The approach to continued control has always been for France to consciously fragilize its dissenting neo-colonial holdings and then rationalize its continued self serving interventions and control of the fragilized states and the entire sub regional systems as providing a security umbrella. This tactic of contrived fragilization and strategic intervention by France succeeded well in Congo Brazzaville in he1980s and in Cote d’Ivoire in the 1990s.
Even unsuspecting decent seasoned statesmen, including in Nigeria, were fooled on the narratives around the Ivorian conflict by France’s propaganda.
Meanwhile, France has been involved in all internal wars in Africa. The confidence for France is that the tactic on contrived state fragilization or strategic state failures remains potent even in the more sophisticated societies that have evolved in some francophone states. As the conflict in Laurent Gbagbo’s Cote d’ Ivoire and Pascal Lissouba’s Congo (Brazzaville) demonstrated, a conscious elite without a massive radicalized constituency clamoring for change is a recipe for the abortion of progressive transformation.
France has been forced to go back to the drawing table and has enacted policies to retain control of Africa. In place of the open insults to Africans hauled by the likes of Sarkozy, France now offers unvarnished public apologies. The apologies by France to the colonized and proclamation that colonialism was a historic error is an element of its new approach. The fact that the apology driven by France’s desperation has not been able to assuage deep seated antagonisms of the now conscientized Africans is a sign of looming turbulence in West Africa.
The transformation of the CFA into the ECO is also obviously to checkmate Nigeria as the potential pivot of economic and political life in West Africa. The ECO is one element in the larger framework of consolidating the contrived fragility of francophone West Africa. TheAfricareport is categorical that France’s guarantee for the new Eco is conditioned on the exclusion of Nigeria from the currency zone. With the details available, it would seem clear that Anglophone West Africa is left no choice than to demonstrate its determination to forge ahead with its economic integration. France’s macabre dance in the sub-region is in desperation. Nigeria must by now definitely be ruing the manner of its intervention in support of France and its proxy in the Ivorian conflict. That uninformed step remains the single most devastating foreign policy error in the entire history of Nigeria. Hopefully, Africa would not have to wait another half century to produce another Laurent Gbagbo as the days of neo- imperialist proxies like Alassane Ouattara are indeed numbered. Finally, West Africa must brace itself for systemic instability should any one or a number of presidents of francophone countries reject the France backed ECO in favor of the original ECOWAS driven common currency for the sub-region. In the evolved circumstances, this possibility may not be too far-fetched. But is Nigeria up to the challenge of redeeming West Africa?
-Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine.