In international relations, Françafrique (French pronunciation: [fʁɑ̃safʁik]) is France's sphere of influence (or pré carré in French, meaning 'backyard') over former French and Belgian colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. The term was derived from the expression France-Afrique, which was used by the first president of Ivory Coast, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, in 1955 to describe his country's close ties with France. It was later renamed Françafrique by François-Xavier Verschave in 1998 to criticise the alleged corrupt and clandestine activities of various Franco-African political, economic and military networks.
Following the accession to independence of its African colonies beginning in 1959, France continued to maintain a sphere of influence over the new countries, which was critical to then President Charles de Gaulle's vision of France as a global power (or grandeur in French) and as a bulwark to British and American influence in a post-colonial world. The United States supported France's continuing presence in Africa to prevent the region from falling under Soviet influence during the Cold War. France kept close political, economic, military and cultural ties with its former African colonies that were multi-layered, involving institutional, semi-institutional and informal levels.
Françafrique has been characterised by several features that emerged during the Cold War, the first of which was the African cell, a group that comprised the French President and his close advisors who made policy decisions on Africa, often in close collaboration with powerful business networks and the French secret service. Another feature was the franc zone, a currency union that pegged the currencies of most francophone African countries to the French franc. Françafrique was also based, in large part, on the concept of coopération, which was implemented through a series of cooperation accords that allowed France to establish close political, economic, military and cultural ties with its former African colonies. France also saw itself as a guarantor of stability in the region and therefore adopted an interventionist policy in Africa, resulting in military interventions that averaged once a year from 1960 to the mid-1990s. Finally, a central feature of Françafrique were the personal networks that underpinned the informal, family-like relationships between French and African leaders. These networks often lacked oversight and scrutinity, which led to corruption and state racketeering.
After the Cold War, the Françafrique regime has weakened over the years due to France's budgetary constraints, greater public scrutiny at home, the deaths of pivotal Françafrique actors (Foccart, Mitterrand, Pasqua and members of Elf) and the integration of France into the European Union. Economic liberalisation, high indebtedness and political instability of the former African colonies have reduced their political and economic attractiveness, leading France to adopt a more pragmatic and hard-nose approach to its African relations.
The term Françafrique was derived from the expression France-Afrique, which was used in 1955 by President Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast, who advocated maintaining a close relationship with France, while acceding to independence. Close cooperation between Houphouët-Boigny and Jacques Foccart, chief advisor on African policy in the Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou governments (1958–1974) is thought to have contributed to the "Ivorian miracle" of economic and industrial progress.
The term was subsequently renamed Françafrique by François-Xavier Verschave and was used as the title of his 1998 book, La Françafrique: le plus long scandale de la République, which criticises French policies in Africa. Verschave and the association Survie, of which he was president until his death in 2005, re-used the expression of Houphouët-Boigny to name and denounce the many concealed bonds between France and Africa. He later defined Françafrique as "the secret criminality in the upper echelons of French politics and economy, where a kind of underground Republic is hidden from view".
Verschave also noted the pun in the term Françafrique, as it sounds like "France à fric" (a source of cash for France; fric is French slang for 'cash'), and that "Over the course of four decades, hundreds of thousands of euros misappropriated from debt, aid, oil, cocoa... or drained through French importing monopolies, have financed French political-business networks (all of them offshoots of the main neo-Gaullist network), shareholders' dividends, the secret services' major operations and mercenary expeditions".
When Charles de Gaulle returned to power as French President in 1958, France had already been severely weakened by World War II and by the conflicts in Indochina and Algeria. He proceeded to grant independence to France's remaining colonies in sub-Saharan Africa in 1960 in an effort to maintain close cultural and economic ties with them and to avoid more costly colonial wars. Compared to the decolonisation of French Indochina and Algeria, the transfer of power in sub-Saharan was, for the most part, peaceful. Nevertheless, de Gaulle was keen on preserving France's status as a global power (or grandeur) and as a bulwark to British and American influence in a post-colonial world. Thus, he saw close links with France's former African colonies as an opportunity to enhance France's image on the world stage, both as a major power and as a counterbalancing force between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The United States supported France's continuing presence in Africa to prevent the region from falling under Soviet influence. Similarly, the United Kingdom had little interest in West Africa, which left France as the only major power in that region.
To implement his vision of France's grandeur, de Gaulle appointed Jacques Foccart, a close adviser and former intelligence member of the French Resistance during World War II, as Secretary-General for African and Malagasy Affairs. Foccart played a pivotal role in maintaining France's sphere of influence in sub-Saharan Africa (or Françafrique) as he put in place a series of cooperation accords that covered political, economic, military and cultural sectors with an ensemble of African countries, which included France's former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Republic of the Congo and Senegal), former United Nations trust territories (Cameroon and Togo), former Belgian colonies (Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo) and ex-Portuguese (Guinea-Bissau) and Spanish (Equatorial Guinea) territories. France's relationship with this whole ensemble was managed by the Ministry of Cooperation, which was created in 1961 out of the old colonial ministry, Ministry for Overseas France. The Ministry of Cooperation served as a focal point for France's new system of influence in Africa and was later merged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1999. Foccart also built a dense web of personal networks that underpinned the informal and family-like relationships between French and African leaders. These accords and relationships, along with the franc zone, allowed France to maintain close ties with its former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa that were multi-layered, involving institutional, semi-institutional and informal levels.
Foccart continued to serve as chief adviser until he was replaced with his younger deputy, René Journiac, by French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. When Jacques Chirac was the French Prime Minister from 1986 to 1988, he consulted Foccart on African issues. Upon becoming President of France in 1995, Chirac again sought Foccart's council and even brought him on his first trip to Africa as French President. Foccart continued to play a role in Franco-African relations until his death in 1997.
Features from the Cold War
Decisions on France's African policies have been the responsibility (or domaine réservé in French) of French Presidents since 1958. They along with their close advisors formed the African cell, which made decisions on African countries without engaging in broader discussions with the French Parliament and civil society actors such as non-governmental organisations. Instead, the African cell worked closely with powerful business networks and the French secret service.
The African cell's founding father, Jacques Foccart, was appointed by President Charles de Gaulle. He became a specialist on African matters at the Élysée Palace. Between 1986 and 1992, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the son of President François Mitterrand and a former AFP journalist in Africa, held the position of chief advisor on African policy at the African cell. He was nicknamed Papamadi (translated as 'Daddy told me'). He was appointed as a diplomatic advisor on Africa but the difference in titles was only symbolic. Subsequently, Claude Guéant served as Africa Advisor to President Sarkozy. In 2017, President Macron appointed Franck Paris to the same role.
The franc zone, a currency union in sub-Saharan Africa, was established when the CFA franc (or franc de la Communauté Financière Africaine) was created in 1945 as a colonial currency for over a dozen of France's African colonies. The zone continues to exist even after the colonies had achieved their independence in the early 1960s, with only three African countries ever leaving the zone, mostly for reasons of national prestige. One of the three countries, Mali, rejoined the zone in 1984. The CFA franc was pegged to the French franc (now the euro) and its convertibility was guaranteed by the French Treasury. Despite sharing the same exchange rate, the CFA franc is actually two currencies, the Central African CFA franc and the West African CFA franc, which are run by their respective central banks in Central and West Africa. The foreign exchange reserves of member countries are pooled and each of the two African central banks keeps 65% of its foreign reserves with the French Treasury.
The franc zone was intended to provide African countries with monetary stability, with member countries such as Ivory Coast experiencing relatively low inflation at an average rate of 6% over the past 50 years compared to 29% in neighboring Ghana, a non-member country. Moreover, the fixed exchange rate between the CFA Franc and the French franc has changed only once in 1994 when the CFA franc was considered overvalued. However, this monetary arrangement has enabled France to control the money supply of the CFA franc and to influence the decision-making process of the African central banks through their boards.
In the early 1960s, French governments had developed a discourse around the concept of coopération, or "post-independence relationship". This concept was linked to the effort of spreading French influence across the world such as promoting French language and culture, securing markets for French goods and projecting French power. It was to be achieved outside of a traditional colonial context whereby sovereign states such as France and the newly independent African countries would work together for mutual benefit. The concept of coopération also appealed to France's sense of historic responsibility to advance the development of its former colonial "family". To that end, France signed cooperation accords with its former colonies, which provided them with cultural, technical and military assistance such as sending French teachers and military advisors to work for the newly formed African governments. The accords also allowed France to maintain troops in Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, and to establish a framework that would allow France to intervene militarily in the region. From 1970 to 1981, the French military cooperation budget constituted 11 to 19% of the entire coopération budget. Under President de Gaulle, French aid and assistance were made contingent on the signing of these accords. For example, when Guinea refused to sign the accords, France immediately withdrew its personnel from Guinea and terminated all assistance to that country. The implementation of these accords was the responsibility of Jacques Foccart, Secretary-General for African and Malagasy Affairs under Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou. In 1987 alone, France was the largest source of development aid to sub-Saharan Africa, providing up to 18% of total aid to the region, followed by the World Bank (13%), Italy (8.5%), United States (6.8%), Germany (6.8%), and the European Community (6.4%). All French aid was provided through the Ministry of Cooperation. France has benefited from its aid, trade and investments in Africa, which has consistently generated a positive balance of payment in France's favour.
After decolonisation, France established formal defence agreements with many francophone countries in sub-Saharan Africa. These arrangements allowed France to establish itself as a guarantor of stability and hegemony in the region. France adopted an interventionist policy in Africa, resulting in 122 military interventions that averaged once a year from 1960 to the mid-1990s and included countries such as Benin (Operation Verdier in 1991), Central African Republic (Operation Barracuda in 1979 and Operation Almandin in 1996), Chad (Opération Bison in 1968–72, Opération Tacaud in 1978, Operation Manta in 1983 and Opération Épervier in 1986), Comoros (Operation Oside in 1989 and Operation Azalee in 1995), Democratic Republic of Congo (Operation Léopard in 1978 and Operation Baumier in 1991 when it was Zaire, and Operation Artemis in 2003), Djibouti (Operation Godoria in 1991), Gabon (1964 and Operation Requin in 1990), Ivory Coast (Opération Licorne in 2002), Mauritania (Opération Lamantin in 1977), Republic of Congo (Opération Pélican in 1997), Rwanda (Operation Noroît in 1990–93, Operation Amaryllis in 1994 and Opération Turquoise in 1994), Togo (1986), Senegal (prevent a coup d'état in 1962) and Sierra Leone (Operation Simbleau in 1992). France often intervened to protect French nationals, to put down rebellions or prevent coups, to restore order or to support particular African leaders.
A central feature of Françafrique was that state-to-state relations between French and African leaders were informal and family-like and were bolstered by a dense web of personal networks (or réseaux in French), whose activities were funded from the coopération budget. Jacque Foccart put in place these networks, which served as one of the main vehicles for the clientelist relations that France had maintained with its former African colonies. The activities of these networks were not subjected to parliamentary oversight or scrutiny, which led to corruption as politicians and officials became involved in business activities that resulted in state racketeering.
The blurring of state, party and personal interests made it possible for the informal, family-like relationships of the Franco-African bloc to benefit specific interest groups and small sections of French and African populations. For example, major French political parties have received funding from the recycling of part of the coopération budget, which secretly made its way to the party's coffers via Africa and from Elf, a French state-owned oil company, when it achieved its strategic objectives in Africa. African leaders and the small French-speaking elites to which they belonged also benefited from this informal relationship as it provided them with political, economic and military support.
Post-Cold War era
The Françafrique regime was at its height from 1960 to 1989 but after the Cold War, it has weakened due to France's budgetary constraints, greater public scrutiny at home, the deaths of pivotal Françafrique figures and the integration of France into the European Union. Economic liberalisation, high indebtedness and political instability of the former African colonies have reduced their political and economic attractiveness, leading France to adopt a more pragmatic and hard-nose approach to its African relations. Furthermore, many of the dense web of informal networks that have bound France to Africa has declined.
The pre-1990 aid regime of the old Françafrique, which has made the sub-Saharan African countries economically dependent on France has now given way to a new regime that is supposed to promote self-sufficiency as well as political and economic liberalism. France has also adopted the Abidjan doctrine, which has internationalised the economic dependency of African countries by having them first reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before receiving French aid. This in turn has decreased the French government's ability to manoeuvre freely to pursue its own distinctive African policy. As a result, the old Franco-African bloc has now splintered, with France abandoning its old family-like relationships for a more pragmatic and hard-nosed approach to its relationship with its former African colonies.
France has made efforts to reduce its military footprint in Africa by making multilateral arrangements with African and European states. French President François Hollande started his tenure with a commitment to non-interventionism. However, a year later, France intervened in Mali at the request of the Malian government, sending 4,000 troops (see Operation Serval, then Operation Barkhane). According to a 2020 study, "France’s commitment to multilateralism is genuine yet not absolute – meaning that French policy-makers do not shy away from operational unilateralism if conditions on the ground seem to require swift and robust military action, as long as they can count on the political support of key international partners."
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In its simplest sense, Françafrique can be interpreted within IR literature as meaning France’s ‘sphere of influence’ or its ‘pré carré’ (backyard), which presupposes the hierarchical order of an otherwise anarchical international system.
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Foccart, who helped de Gaulle maintain France’s sphere of influence over its former colonies after the fires of independence spread across Africa in the 1960s, took Bourgi under his wing.
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The article comparatively analyses Franco-Burundian and Franco-Rwandan relations during the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. From the 1970s, the two former Belgian colonies were integrated into the complex political, economic, cultural and military system that France implemented with its former colonies.
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