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The African Chirac “: Was Jacques Chirac a defender of Africa?

28.09.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
The death of Jacques Chirac was an occasion to once again discuss French politics in Africa, particularly with regard to their former colonies (the so-called Françafrique policy). As it turned out, the principles of the relationship between the metropolis and its former colonies, laid down in the 60s by General de Gaulle (in the era of African countries gaining formal independence), are still alive today. The Françafrique policy continues to exist - it is evolving and becoming more complicated, at the moment, already influencing European (and world) politics. Is there any benefit for the African countries themselves? That is the big question.

New sides of the Françafrique policy

In the photo: former French President Jacques Chirac (November 29, 1932 – September 26, 2019), surrounded by his African friends – the leaders of Gabon (Omar Bongo), Togo (Gnassingbe Eyadema) and Tunisia (Zine El Abidine Ben Ali). “Les amis d’abord” or friends first, it is with this motto that the RFI publication characterizes Jacques Chirac’s policy on Africa. The good old policy of “Françafrique” turns out to have a flip side to the coin. Not only militaristic, France is pumping all its resources out of defenseless Africa, but France itself, in the person of its political elite, is becoming the object of manipulation by a number of dictators of the black continent. In particular, through the existing quasi-family relations of Jacques Chirac and his closest associates with a number of rulers of Africa. Here you can recall the fact that the Jacques Chirac’s 1981 campaign was financed by African regimes already repeatedly published and voiced, as well as a loud interview with lawyer Robert Burgi that tells us that during the time of Jacques Chirac he transferred millions of cash hidden in briefcases from several African presidential palaces to the French leadership.

On the other hand, Jacques Chirac was not only a beneficiary, and not only built his personal political career thanks to the material support of “African friends”. Obviously, Jacques Chirac sincerely loved Africa, and lobbied for her interests internationally.

“Africa must be supported in its development”

“African”: not one of the presidents of France had the right to such a nickname. During his presidency, Jacques Chirac visited almost 40 countries on the continent. Jacques Chirac established very close ties with Africa, and is considered one of its most ardent defenders. In addition to his pledges through a fund bearing his name to combat counterfeit medicines, Jacques Chirac came up with many other initiatives in favor of Africa. Including airfare tax to fund the Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Jacques Chirac repeatedly vouched for his former colonies before the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.

At the initiative of Chirac, the development of Africa became a priority topic for the G8 in 2003. Several heads of state of the continent were invited to a closed event of the heads of the largest countries: the President of Algeria (Abdelaziz Bouteflika), the President of Egypt (Hosni Mubarak), the President of Nigeria (Olusegun Obasanjo), the President of Senegal (Abdulay Wade) and the President of South Africa (Thabo Mbeki). From now on, every year some heads of African states will be invited to this very closed club.

“I love Africa, its territories, peoples and cultures, I measure its needs, I understand its aspirations.” This was stated by Jacques Chirac in front of representatives of 48 African states gathered at the Franco-African summit in Cannes in February 2007. French President questioned Africa’s place in globalization. “The international community cannot stay away from the troubles and crises that Africa faces,” he said. Chirac warned against abandoning this continent, which could be “plundered again, left without prosperity and isolated in its difficulties.”Africa must be supported in its development.

In 2008, Chirac said that “most of the money that is in our wallet comes from exploitation over the centuries of Africa.” And he added: “Then we must have a little common sense, I’m not saying generosity, a little common sense, justice, to return to the Africans that we took from them.” The testament speech was welcomed by the heads of many African states who thanked him for being their tireless advocate in the international arena.

“He was in love with Africa, its aesthetics, its people, it’s warm,” said Jean-Pierre Dawson, research director at EHESS.

“A multi-party system is a kind of luxury”

Despite his love of Africa, Jacques Chirac was a consistent supporter of the Françafrique policy. When the stability of the continent or the interests of French companies were in jeopardy, then great democratic principles were put in the background.

It is no coincidence that it was in Abidjan that Jacques Chirac announced in February 1990, when he was mayor of Paris, this proposal is engraved on the pediments of all presidential palaces occupied by autocrats: “A multi-party system is a kind of luxury that developing countries should focus on economic growth they cannot afford.”

Jacques Chirac’s policies in Africa are marked by the stamp of interventionism. To some extent limited during the period of socialist influence (1997-2002) and the Lionel Jospin policy of “no interference”, the French president sees in his re-election in 2002 an opportunity to reaffirm France’s place in Africa. Jacques Chirac sent the French army to rescue “friendly” regimes in the Central African Republic in 1996 and in Chad in 2006.

Ivory Coast was also in the focus of Chirac politics. Following an attempted coup on September 19, 2002, President Laurent Gbagbo accused Paris of intriguing against him. The tension was fueled, in particular, by France’s refusal to apply the existing defense agreement between the two countries. For Gbagbo, the French army, which still has a base in Abidjan, was to assist the Ivorian soldiers on the grounds that the attackers had arrived from a neighboring state (Burkina Faso). Chirac refused on the pretext that it was an internal political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.

Tension peaked in November 2004 after the bombing of the French military base in Bouake by Ivorian aircraft. At this moment, Paris was seriously considering replacing Gbagbo. However, an attempt to intervene in the politics of Côte d’Ivoire failed, and Franco-Ivorian relations were ruined for many years. Thus, instead of the pearl of the French crown, Abidjan turned into a source of anti-French rhetoric on the African continent.

Support for African Dictators

Jacques Chirac had a personal and warm relationship with most of the leaders of the French-speaking countries of Africa. Among them are Congolese Denis Sassu Nguesso, Gabon Omar Bongo, Senegalese Abdu Diouf and Cameroonian Paul Biya. This friendship was criticized in France, as well as in Africa itself.

At the Franco-African summit in Yaoundé, Cameroon in January 2001, the French episcopate published a letter inviting Jacques Chirac to distance himself from African regimes, “which practice election fraud, confiscation of resources, imprisonment, and sometimes even physical elimination.”

Faithful in friendship, Chirac also took on the role of defender Faure Gnassingbe, the son of a Togolese dictator who inherited his father’s power in 2005 after a constitutional coup. His power was hastily recognized by Paris. Togo’s opposition has not forgotten this French policy, and in general, the image of Chirac south of the Sahara, therefore, is perceived as an image of a politician who follows old colonial practices.

Nevertheless, times are changing, and the politics of Françafrique, together with its historical figures (Jacques Chirac), are receding into the past. Today, the countries of French Africa are gradually freed from Paris custody. The continent is now attracting new partners from around the world. First of all, we are talking about the United States, China and the Arab world. However, whether international trade will be carried out in the interests of justice remains a big question.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit : google image/illustration

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