Why is France so unpopular and despised in Africa?

2021-12-05 10:07:10
Why is France so unpopular and despised in Africa?

Why does France now appear so unpopular in Africa, despite its supposed anti-terror operation in the Sahel and increased aid to the continent, along with other political gestures?

This year, French President Emmanuel Macron flew to Rwanda to publicly acknowledge French failures during the 1994 genocide.

Yet his country is now the target of embittered African complaints and criticism on a scale that is probably unprecedented, the BBC said in a report.

Last month, a convoy of French troops heading north to support the fight against militants was repeatedly blockaded by protesters as it crossed Burkina Faso and Niger.

Observers accuse France of pursuing neo-colonialism in Africa, falsely claiming to fight terrorism as a pretext to maintain its influence in the region.

Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said last month that he has evidence that France has been training terrorist groups operating in the nation.

Among progressive West African commentators and urban youth, it is now commonplace to hear calls for the abolition of the CFA franc - the regional currency used by many francophone countries and which is pegged to the euro under a French government guarantee.

Its critics say this enables France to control the economies of those countries which use it, while France says it guarantees economic stability.

Neo-colonial arrogance

What explains the level of French unpopularity in Africa not felt for decades? Critics say Macron's arrogant personal style is a factor.

He has made his share of diplomatic blunders.

After 13 French troops died in a helicopter crash in Mali in November 2019 he demanded that West African leaders fly to France for an emergency summit, an outburst perceived as neo-colonial arrogance, particularly as Mali and Niger had suffered far heavier recent military losses.

Macron was forced into a rapid course-correction, flying to Niamey, Niger's capital, to pay his respects to the Nigérien military dead and postponing the summit until January 2020.

But the causes of France's current discomfort also extend back to decades before Macron's election in 2017. "You can cite historical controversies linked to colonisation. Many of us are the children of parents who knew the colonial period and its humiliations," explains Ivorian political analyst Sylvain Nguessan.

During the early post-independence decades, France maintained a dense web of personal connections with African leaders and elites - dubbed "françafrique" - which too often slid into a mutual protection of vested interests, with little regard for human rights or transparency.

The French military presence has also fueled an increasingly widespread sense of grievance across West Africa.

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