PARIS — A 2008 cable sent from the American Embassy in Paris to the Secretary of State and other U.S. embassies around the world outlines the history of the diplomatic relationship between France and Africa, as President Nicholas Sarkozy has tried to reshape.
The memo, recently released by Wikileaks, outlines Sarkozy’s efforts to reform the relationship between France and Africa.
The policy of Sarkozy’s predecessors, termed the France-Afrique, or Françafrique model, had become “a complex web of economic, military, political, social and cultural ties that linked France with its former colonies and to a lesser extent non-francophone Africa,” the memo said.
This included the governmental, educational, legal, military, bureaucratic and administrative systems of many African countries, which were modeled on French systems. These countries, some of which have French as the lingua franca and can only be reached by airplanes connecting through Paris, have long depended on France’s aid to stay afloat.
In addition, the memo says, African leaders were often able to amass private fortunes, enjoy luxurious lifestyles in Europe, and occasionally achieve high-ranking French government positions.
African troops fought for France during the World Wars and veterans still receive pensions from the French government, the memo says.
Perhaps the most poignant signal of the special relationship between France and its former colonies is the “Mr. Africas,” a long series of advisers to French presidents beginning with de Gaulle, whose special status allowed him to reported directly to the president with advice on Africa.
But nearing the end of the 20th century, the costs of maintaining a special relationship with Africa became too costly, the memo states.
“France-Afrique provided privileges to France but carried a burden of expectation that has become harder to shoulder,” the memo says.
And although the rest of the world had come to expect that France takes care of problems in Africa, Sarkozy made it clear that this is a burden the French government no longer can, or wants to, shoulder.
In a series of three speeches in Dakar and Lisbon in 2007 and Cape Towin in 2008, Sarkozy outlined his new plan for relations with former African colonies.
“The general theme emerging from these speeches is that France will seek to modernize relations, get rid of lingering colonialist and post-colonialist baggage, engage with Africans on a more business-like and arms-length basis, no longer seek to play a paternal role and instead opt for a partnership among equals.”
Sarkozy, the first French president to have grown up without meaningful personal experience with the colonial era, the memo points out, abolished the Mr. Africa position, and adopted a favorable stance towards countries like the U.S. and China, as well as the European Union and the United Nations, who all want larger roles in African relations.
But while France has actively supported EU and UN involvement, the memo says they are concerned about Chinese activity in Africa, that it is too rapid and too effective – “too much China too fast.”
“Publically, Sarkozy’s attitude has been that France has no objection to China’s becoming more present in Africa – so long as Africans apply the same rules to the Chinese that are applied to everyone else,” the memo states.
The memo concludes by suggesting that the new Africa policy, an abrupt break with French tradition, is perhaps a reflection of Sarkozy’s own personality, as a figure who has, from the beginning, advocated for vast reform, especially in foreign relations.
“To Sarkozy, France-Afrique no longer makes sense, with France and Africa needing to modernize their ties on both sides and move on, based on a calculation of interests on both sides,” the memo says.
A third part of the memo focuses on the impact of the new Africa policy on France’s military presence in Africa.
The memo, written in September of 2008, states that the French intend to consolidate their military presence and re-group into two hubs, one in the Atlantic Ocean and one in the Indian Ocean.
In addition, they want to update France’s Defense Agreement with its former colonies, and establish a new department that will more closely correspond with Africa’s sub-regional groups rather than the European-drawn country lines.
“He sought a more modern and transparent relationship, ostensibly of ‘equals,’ that would allow both sides to conduct relations on a business-like and rational basis,” the cable says.
But the cable points out that an attempt to reform the Africa policy is a formidable task that must overcome “a certain level of comfort on both sides that has accumulated over many years.”