Why is it that issues appear to worsen just when they should be getting better?
In a French-African setting, how come President Emmanuel Macron is examining the shattered remains of French policy – coups in four Francophone states – just when he believed he had turned his back on all the evil post-colonialism of the past?
Nobody denies that France utilized a certain degree of skulduggery and military force to advance its objectives in La Françafrique for a long time, approximately comparable to the Cold War.
But no-one can dismiss, either, the fact that for the last quarter-century the message from Paris has been that those days – officially at least – are over.
Gone are the inevitable requests for French military to back up a teetering despot, as well as the millions in backhanders that aided the financing of French political parties.
Today’s buzzwords include “democratisation,” “empowerment,” “cooperation,” and “engagement with youth.” According to an official at the Élysée Palace, “it’s been a very long time since we’ve had our men in presidential palaces.”
Perhaps it would be stupid to believe that everything is above board, and that no malevolent demands and sweeteners are still being sent back and forth between Paris and francophone capitals.
But surely it is also a wild exaggeration to claim that French influence is anything like it used to be.
To take the case of Gabon – often seen as the emblem of corrupt post-colonialism – it is certainly true that deposed President Ali Bongo’s father Omar Bongo was regarded condescendingly as “one of ours” by successive French presidents, and benefited accordingly, as did they.
The Bongos’ amassment of wealth – and its secretion in Paris – was no doubt legendary. But was it not the action of French anti-corruption judges, unimpeded by politicians, that led to its exposure and to criminal proceedings against members of the Bongo family, arguably pushing Ali into the arms of the Anglos?
And if Paris still has pull over neighbouring Cameroon, how come its leader Paul Biya recently attended the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg, smiling alongside Vladimir Putin?