#JeSuisCharlie is the catch phrase used by millions around the world to show solidarity with the 17 people killed in France after terrorists attacked French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
On Sunday 11 January 2015 millions of people flooded the streets in France in a march protesting against terrorism and in defence of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
The march was also attended by world leaders including French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Six African leaders; presidents of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, Togo Faure Gnassingbé, Benin, Yayi Boni, Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba and Senegal, Macky Sall also joined arms with their European counterparts on the streets of France.
While the world denounced terrorism and defended their rights and those of the 17 killed in France, Boko Haram laid waste to the town of Baga in Nigeria killing more than 2000 civilians. The reaction to these latest atrocities by militant group Boko Haram has been paltry in comparison to the attack in Paris.
African leaders remain mum and offer no solutions to terrorism not only in Nigeria but also in other countries such as Kenya. Currently it seems they are preoccupied with being Charlie which then begs the question, si vous êtes Charlie, qui est Baga? (If you are Charlie, who is Baga?)
Criticism of African leaders is not unfounded, for years the call has been for “African solutions to African problems.” The reality however is that the continent is big on talk and small on action.
Many have argued that Africa needs to stop blaming the West for its problems and that our leaders should take responsibility for the crises they face. It is true that as Africans it is pertinent for us to assume responsibility for our future as the rest of the world is evidently not interested in the continent’s grievances.
But do we really have control over our affairs? Is the hangover from colonialism and structural adjustment programmes of yesteryear truly gone? Are African countries, regional bodies and organisations well equipped to deal with terrorism, disease and poverty afflicting the continent?
The sad reality of Africa is that many African countries are still at the mercy of the colonialists. An article by Mawuna Remarque KOUTONIN states that 14 African countries are forced by France to pay colonial tax for “the benefits of slavery and colonisation.”
An extremely ironic statement as if one thought slavery and colonialism to be beneficial, surely they would not have fought so valiantly for their freedom. One can safely posit that African solutions will fail to materialise while we are still tethered to their former colonial powers.
The fourteen countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Cross reference the list of African Heads of State who marched in Paris with these 14 countries and you will find their six countries on that list. This then could be one of the reasons why these leaders found themselves in France.
In the article, Koutonin writes that “When Sékou Touré of Guinea decided in 1958 to get out of French colonial empire, and opted for the country independence, the French colonial elite in Paris got so furious, and in a historic act of fury the French administration in Guinea destroyed everything in the country which represented what they called the benefits from French colonization.”
The fallout from this act of fury saw the 3000 Frenchmen in Guinea leave the country with all their property and destroying property, hospitals, schools and anything else they could to sabotage independent Guinea. Animals were killed, food resources were burnt, a punishment to what they deemed an act of defiance.
Sékou Touré’s slogan was “We prefer freedom in poverty to opulence in slavery.” This sentiment, Koutonin explains, was not shared by the rest of the African leaders in the French colonies. They sought a solution that would gain them independence but not at the expense of demolition France was capable of.
Françafrique was born. This term is used to refer to the relationship France has with its former African colonies. The former French president Charles de Gaulle, made it mandatory for African countries to enter into what was essentially a colonialisation continuation pact if they wanted their independence.
Koutonin states that there were 11 main components of this pact: Colonial Debt for the benefits of France colonization, Automatic confiscation of national reserves, Right of first refusal on any raw or natural resource discovered in the country, Priority to French interests and companies in public procurement and public bidding, Exclusive right to supply military equipment and Train the country military officers.
Right for France to pre-deploy troops and intervene military in the country to defend its interests, Obligation to make French the official language of the country and the language for education, Obligation to use franc for French African colonies (FCFA), Obligation to send France annual balance and reserve report, Renunciation to enter into military alliance with any other country unless authorized by France, Obligation to ally with France in situation of war or global crisis.
Essentially in these independent African states, France set up proxy governments. No real independence was obtained and the situation prevails until today. Automatic confiscation of national reserves means that these African countries have no control over their wealth or sovereignty. As the proverbial statement goes, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”
Defiance to these rules was dealt with swiftly. In 1963 Togo President Sylvanus Olympio made a decision to stop using French colonial money FCFA and issue the country own currency. Three days after the printing of the currency, he was assassinated by soldiers in his country under French direction.
Many other assassinations of progressive African leaders have taken place at the hands of former colonial powers and their allies. Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and more recently, Muammar Gaddafi were all victims of persecution by the West.
Resultantly, French speaking Africa is left in a precarious situation. Those that wish to follow the path of Sékou Touré or Sylvanus Olympio face strict retaliation from France or assassination. 61% of the coups in Africa have taken place in former French colonies and many of them influenced by the former colonial master.
To say that African countries must take sole responsibility for their condition is to ignore the neo-colonialism that exists on the continent. The fact that there are African countries are only permitted access to 15% of their foreign reserves while the other 85% is held by the French central bank means those countries are not independent.
When a crisis occurs on the continent, the reaction has been to wait for assistance and aid from the West. The Ebola epidemic in 2014 and the intervention of French troops in Mali in 2014 are testament to this. The interests of the West however are not and do not serve the interests and benefits of the African people
Fortitude is required by African countries to stand up this neo-colonialism and support African interests in African issues. It is important to face reality and realise that this task may prove too big for the African Union as the continent is not one homogenous body.
It would be more prudent for the regional bodies to develop programmes and policies that would build African states and address the difficulties countries find themselves in. A united approach must be taken to loosen the hold of France, Britain and the USA and their neo-colonial policies.
It is no secret how beneficial Africa is to the West. Former French President Jacques Chirac said “Without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third (world) power.” Africa must not allow itself to be held ransom by its former colonisers as they are reliant on us. Our leaders must categorically know and state that I am not Charlie but We Are Africa.
This article first appeared in The Herald on 20 January 2015 under the title Africa: A Continent Held to Ransom