A French military officer tells the mangazine Jeune Afrique. “The face of the threat has changed. Our preoccupation is no longer to support the regimes.” By regimes he means the mostly undemocratic African governments France has been propping up in Africa. The comment isn’t followed by a winking emoticon but Jeune Afrique did draw a map (link) of the French army presence in Africa today. In 1960 France had around 30,000 soldiers on the continent. 50 years later, that number has been reduced to some 5,000. The map reminded me of the “Open letter to the future President of France” by Cameroonian author Patrice Nganang published in SlateAfrique last month. Here’s an excerpt:
We know, Mr. future President of France, that the French slave kingdom in Africa is maintained by thousands of French soldiers stationed here and there the continent: Senegal, Chad, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire. We know that if it weren’t for this military support, the tyrants, those commanders that keep the people in bondage, would have long been toppled by the people. (…) We expect more from you than outrage over the tyrannies that strangle Cameroon and other francophone countries. From you, we expect a withdrawal of the all too obvious support that Paris has always given to some African dictators. From you, we expect a military withdrawal from Africa. But, from you, we also expect strong gestures and concrete support to the African civil society undermined by years of dictatorship and corruption. (…) Mr. future President of France, be more than the Mitterand of La Baule, be more than the Obama in Cairo; be a friend of democracy in Africa.
Nganang continues further down:
… It is that the French-speaking African countries are also the poorest on the continent! How can we believe that by Imperial bad luck during the butchering of Africa in 1884, France found itself with only the most wretched countries of earth? A quick glance at the classification of the countries of the world based on the well-being of their people would show you that the bottom is occupied by those having the French language as their common mode of expression: Chad, Mali, DRC, Cameroon, CAR, etc. Culture is that symbolic value, which for a long time has been mirrored by the French policy in Africa, and taken up by the first generation of African politicians since Leopold Sedar Senghor …
He ends the letter:
We know you attentive to the promptings of democracy and human rights when they occur: no other space than the one sharing French with you is as thirsty for democracy today. From you, we expect therefore more that outrage over the tyrannies that strangle Cameroon and other francophone countries. From you we expect a withdrawal of the too obvious support that Paris has always lent to some African dictators. From you, we expect a military withdrawal from Africa. But from you, we also expect strong gestures and a concrete support to African civil society undermined by years of dictatorship and corruption. The tyrants of Francophone Africa will be destroyed without the reassuring protection of the President of France. We expect from you more than the refusal to receive them at the Elysee Palace or to visit them.
- When you click on the map it expands to show the details, including troop numbers, military operations, etcetera.