French policies are described as neo-colonial and being challenged with slogans and placards by the youth/ Photo: AP / Photo: AA

By Awa Cheikh Faye

The “celebrations” coincided with a massive public uprising in France the same day, as millions of French citizens rallied across the country to protest the Macron government’s pension reform plans and a growing cost-of-living crisis.

The irony was not lost on anybody in Burkina Faso – a French government increasingly out of touch with its own citizens is now facing louder calls for loosening its grip on former colonies.

It is now following a pattern. French soldiers left the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2021, a few months after the end of the deployment of its forces in Mali.

The departures are a further step in the transforming relations between Paris and its former colonies, which seem determined to redefine the “cooperation” that many believe is heavily tilted in favour of France.

Military failures

On the continent, French policies described as neo-colonial are being challenged with slogans and placards by the youth, plagued by poverty and poor employment prospects for decades.

They demand a fairer new model of cooperation and respect for African nations’ sovereignty.

More recently, this disaffection seems to have gone up a notch, particularly with the emergence in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso of young leaders with who do not hesitate to publicly reject deals with France.

They believe that such arrangements do not serve the interests of their countries.

Security and geopolitical analyst Romual Ilboudo explains the change of attitude of some African leaders towards Paris as a “generational factor”.

“The current leaders in Burkina, Mali, and Guinea have not experienced colonisation, nor the independence period, so they have no complex. It is a generation that demands to deal on equal footing with the former coloniser,” Ilboudo tells TRT Afrika.

“Then there is the attitude of France itself. Paris has not changed its policy, and its view towards its former colonies does not take into account the generational evolution. Over the years, frustrations have grown. The rejection of the French army is the result of these frustrations,” he adds.

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For many, the departure of the French military forces is a step towards the restoration of the economic and political sovereignty of these nations.

“Today, the relationship we have with France is one imposed by history, not by the strategic choices of our states,” says Boubakar Bokoum, leader of the African Party for Integration and Sovereignty in Mali.

French military operations in Mali began with the 2013 Operation Serval against insurgents but failed to stop the proliferation of armed groups that have since extended their influence to newer areas.

Within a decade, terrorists allied with Daesh have spread their violence to Niger and Burkina Faso and even affected Ivory Coast and Benin.

Colonial currency

The other main issue that sparks anger in the region is monetary.

This is the sensitive subject of the Franc CFA, a currency inherited from the colonial era and currently used in 14 countries of the continent.

For many years, a debate has been going on in Africa on whether an African currency should replace the Franc CFA.

Marc Bonogo, president of the Burkina Faso civil society organisation Alliance of New Consciences, says that “most of the people who are leading this campaign are young people under 30 living with the consequences of endemic youth unemployment and persistent poverty. All those factors are linked to the Franc CFA.

“The political independence may be there, but financially and economically, the French-speaking African countries are not free,” he tells TRT Akrika.

Indeed, many consider that the currency inherited from the colonial era hinders the ability of African countries to control their economy and develop autonomously.

Boubakar Bokoum, president of the African Party for Integration and Sovereignty in Mali, argues that “European interests have always been driven by conquest and expansion.

“The expansion was backed by economic interests. So what effectively underpinned the creation of the Franc CFA – a currency invented in the spirit of the Nazi currency – was to enable France to access the resources it needed in Africa.”

Critics of the Franc CFA claim that the currency makes the countries using it dependent on France and weakens their economies. The fixed exchange rates, too, make the African economies vulnerable to global economic shocks.

Security and geopolitical analyst Romuald Ilboudo describes this as “an imprisonment of our currency”.

The Franc CFA raises the fundamental question of economic, monetary and financial sovereignty for African nations.

“If we do not have control over our currency, we are effectively cheated. African intellectuals have understood the value of money and have understood how deceitful the Franc CFA is."

Boubakar Bokoum

“And that the major investments in our economies today are backed by the IMF and the World Bank, which are a duo of fraud, European imperialism, and global financial banking capital, i.e. the United States and France,” he adds.

In search of new partners

In recent years, there has been a steady shift towards closer relations between African countries and other powers such as Russia, Türkiye and China.

For some, this is the result of a series of factors, including the search for new economic opportunities, the desire to diversify international relations and to be free from the financial domination of the West and to establish more balanced partnerships with nations from other continents.

For others, it reflects the emergence of an anti-French sentiment on the continent.

Marc Bonogo, however, says, “there is no anti-French sentiment in Africa”.

“What we condemn is French policies in Africa. People have realised that in the cooperation between France and African nations, it is only France that wins while Africa comes out empty-handed, which is why young Africans have started a process of political, economic, social and cultural empowerment.”

Romual Ilboudo points out to the high sense of hospitality of Africa in general and West Africa in particular.

“The French in West Africa are well integrated...However, they must show consideration to their hosts. And as long as there is mutual respect, they will always be welcomed,” he says.

Bokoum says Africa today is aware of her strength.

“Africa is saying enough is enough. The plundering of resources is enough. The control of the economy is enough. Africa needs to develop,” he says.

“There is no reason why we should have all the natural resources, with all the intellectual resources, and yet be the least developed continent in the world.”

TRT Afrika