Photo by Carine&Tom published on Flickr. Paris, 2010.
Last October, when François Hollande was still only a presidential candidate, he promised to put an end to Françafrique “with no regrets”. On Sunday, he defeated Nicolas Sarkozy and was elected as France’s president. Our Observers in West Africa, who followed the election very closely, consider the steps the new president could take to bring an end to the negative practices left over from colonialism.
Françafrique refers to the political, economic, and military links between France and its former colonies. These links have enabled France to maintain its sphere of influence and safeguard its interests since these countries gained their independence. The term Françafrique is today used mainly in a negative sense, to denounce the neocolonial aspects of the relationship.
When he was running for president in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy promised to end Françafrique once and for all. But just after he was elected president, he said that “the African man” had “never really entered history”. These comments sparked a great deal of controversy in Africa and a number of African newspapers described them as insulting. Shortly after giving this speech in Dakar, Sarkozy traveled to Gabon to offer his support to Ali Bongo. As Bongo had been elected Gabon’s president following a disputed election, Sarkozy’s trip did not go down well with the African media. In their eyes, it was proof that Françafrique was still alive and kicking.
We asked our Observers: Will the new president be able to convince Africans that Françafrique is a thing of the past?

'Abolish the French education system'

Ferdinand Koungou is an IT technician in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Bringing an end to Françafrique doesn’t mean hating France and erasing the names of famous French people from our street signs. But we need to free ourselves from France’s influence in order to grow. This requires changing our education system, which has been modeled on the French system since the days of colonization. This system, with its theoretical subjects like history and geography, does not suit an under-developed country like Cameroon. Young people need to learn technical and practical skills so that we can develop our industry.
In France, it takes a few hours to produce thousands of televisions, which we here in Cameroon then buy for between 400,000 and 600,000 CFA francs [between 600 and 900 Euros]. Cameroon sells France one ton of its cocoa for around 100,000 CFA francs [152 Euros], after spending months growing and harvesting it. The relationship between our imports and exports is not in our favour.

'Withdraw French troops from our soil'

Allaissem is a lecturer at the University of N’Djamena in Chad.
Last year, it was suggested that the French soldiers who are part of Operation Sparrowhawk would be withdrawn from N’Djamena. But nothing happened and the French army is still here, despite the fact that conflicts with rebels from neighbouring countries [like Sudan] are over. [In 2011] France even endorsed the victory of President Idriss Déby, despite the hotly contested election. Although the army is useful for putting out fires and it allows people access to their health centre, nothing else really justifies their presence on our soil.
[Operation Sparrowhawk began in 1986. It was set up at the request of President Hissène Habré, who wanted to protect Chad from being attacked by the Libyan military. In July 2011, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé announced a “new co-operation agreement” was being discussed with Chad. His statement was taken as a sign of France’s desire to implement the “rupture” with the past that Sarkozy had promised at the beginning of his mandate. But French troops are still present in Chad, as well as in Gabon, Cape Verde, Djibouti, and Ivory Coast. In 2010, the Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade succeeded in closing down a French military base in Dakar].

'Stop sanctioning rigged elections'

George Mpaga is the president of the Good Governance Network in Libreville, Gabon.
Firstly, we would like to see François Hollande denounce the electoral irregularities that resulted in Ali Bongo’s election, and we want France to stop sanctioning rigged elections [Bongo succeeded his father Omar in a disputed election in 2009].
We also expect France to encourage Gabon to hold legislative elections for the National Assembly, because today, the opposition is currently non-existent in the Assembly [the Gabonese Democratic Party, led by Bongo, won 113 out of 120 seats last December].
To improve France’s relationship with Gabon, the new president must allow the so-called ‘ill-gotten gains’ case to be brought before the courts and ensure that there is a trial. [Editor’s note: Since December 2010, two French judges have been investigating the conditions in which three African leaders, including Ali Bongo, came to acquire large property holdings in France. In 2008, NGO Transparency International France filed a lawsuit against these three leaders for “concealment of embezzled public funds”].

'Break Bolloré and France Telecom’s monopolies'

Israël Yoroba Guebo is a journalist and blogger in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
To end Françafrique in Ivory Coast, [French industrial group] Bolloré’s monopoly in Abidjan’s port must be broken. While it’s true that this French group has created jobs for Ivorians, its presence here prevents domestic companies from growing.
[Editor’s note: For the past ten years, Bolloré has been investing heavily in the country’s port and rail sectors. Today, it is the main manager of Abidjan’s port. In addition, Bolloré Africa Logistics is the leading logistics network in Africa. Located in 50 African countries, Bolloré plays a key role in the economies of Ivory Coast, Gabon, Cameroon, and Congo].
The telecommunications sector is another example of Françafrique. Here, the national landline operator is Ivory Coast Telecom, a subsidiary of the French group France Telecom. In France, France Telecom offers free calls between landlines, but for some strange reason this is not available in Ivory Coast. I think that this sector should be opened up to competition.
[Editor’s note: The French group is present in 19 countries in Africa and the Middle East, most notably Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic. It is the number one operator on the continent and plans to double its profits there by 2015].