By Ademola Araoye
The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Nigeria last week was historic. It was also unique in many ways. The historic mission was defined by the breadth of the youthful French President’s substantive engagements and the unusual informal character of his interaction with society. That interaction at the Afrika Shrine, was, given the nature of things, effectively hijacked by the universe of hoity-toity cultural elites to the detriment, one suspects, of the hoi polloi real constituency of the legendary Afrobeat maestro. The contrived peculiar informality, a reflection of the intense intended symbolisms integral to the Macron’s messaging, were designed to defy the tight traditions of officialdom and the strictures of diplomatic protocols associated with summit visits. These departures from conventional protocols were also necessitated by and aimed at facilitating new approaches to the projection of the critical permanent and non-negotiable substantive strategic thrust of French African policy, from which directly flowed presidential salesman Macron’s visit. In the context of tectonic shifts in the global and African strategic landscape in the last two decades, the main and inalienable pivot of France’s policy in Africa is to consolidate its historic hegemonic status as the first power in Africa. France’s enunciated strategic objectives in Africa has traditionally been manifest in political and economic control of large parts of the continent, the management of the African security challenges, often also contrived, and domination of the social and cultural spaces. These all as constituent dimensions of the long term French political agenda. As a national ego massage, France has often arrogated to itself the usurpation of the voice of Africa and prided itself on this self-serving and self-imposed burden. It is therefore canonical in French strategic policy that any credible movement towards true integration of Africa across the political, economic, security and cultural realms is a threat not only to France’s permanent and inalienable strategic objectives in the continent, but also its understanding of national self in the global arena. Hostage Africa is a permanent adjunct element in bolstering the elite status of France in the hierarchical global order. At a more existential level, Africa is France’s inalienable beef steak. France takes more from than it gives to Africa. Whatever convenient and distorted narratives and rationalizations are proffered to the contrary.
The principle of the inalienability of Africa from the strategic calculus of France’s location in the global system in the longue duree was reaffirmed in a most recent review of African policy by the French establishment. This followed recent setbacks and outright costly failures in Africa, including in Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic and, more recently, in Gabon. Deriving from this irreducible foundational principle of action, France’s policy in Africa expresses its permanent defection from the fundamental objectives of any internally mobilized distillation, articulation and concretization of the communal interests of the peoples of Africa by African people for African people. That ultimate Africa driven afro-centric vision that contrasts Franco-centric notions of African interests is thus only attainable by the radical deconstruction of the structures, negations of the protocols and pivots of the current pervasive derelict bankruptcy, to be followed by constructive reconstruction through consolidation of the totality of the fractious African social, cultural, economic and spaces. These laudable legitimate goals of African people pose long term challenges to an Africa centered partnership as the foundation of new Franco-African relations.
Against these fundamentals, Macron’s visit, its comprehensive substantive focus: political, economic, security and social and cultural, may only realistically be located as part of the on-going reforms of modalities of policy articulation. These reforms, underpinned by lessons codified from its recent failures, are to counter balance the emerging attempts, feeble though, at Africa’s articulation of common continental reconstructive structures and protocols. The latest of this reconstructions being the proposed Africa Continental Free Trade Area. In the current dispensation with Africa divided along colonial frontiers and large swathes of socio-economic and political spaces effectively controlled by France, such radical reconstruction of the continental economic space must await radical attitudinal and policy reorientation of France. Such radical realignments may turn out to be a wait for Godot. This is notwithstanding the rhetorical political assent to an integrated expansive continent wide economic space by quite a number of states, including those under the thump of France. Also, the interventions of exogenous forces in Africa, particularly the Chinese, especially in the commanding heights of economies across the continent, has an added urgency to the imperative to generate new impetus for France’s deeply intrusive policy in Africa. France must then fashion the mix of appropriate instruments to achieve its policy objectives.
Conceptually, strategic policy instruments are basically two. Persuasion and Coercion to achieve social, cultural and economic penetration. These are the two polar ends of the instruments available in potential interaction of interacting forces or parties. The two also provide the framework to define the modalities of engagements in the interactive plane, especially in diplomacy. The carrot and stick in the familiar cliche. Strategy is relational in defining approaches to the attainment of end objectives in the context of means available. In fact, it is the translation of available means into concrete policy goals. The situational, relational and contextual are critical elements of the conjuncture of factors to take into account. In between available resources and end goals are a whole gamut of intervening variables that impact the effective concretization of policy objectives. In this appreciation of the essentials of strategic interaction, any orchestrated plan through the mix of elements of persuasion and or coercion to subjugate or degrade to the point of irrelevance and or loss of integrity of autonomous action, including in advancing the physical, psychical and material well being of a community, people or race, state, nation, with or without the consent of the targeted group, constitutes a war. Soft power is often to bend the will of the targeted community often through compromising its policy through co-option of the dominant elites. Massive and organized use of coercion and physical violence such as full blown military campaigns associated with conventional understanding of war to achieve hostile intentions are the last desperate instruments of the offending power to force the capitulation of the target population. The ultimate strategic objective of war is to eliminate or degrade or completely neutralize the overall capacity, including the autonomous will of the target population, to even begin to contemplate or forge an overarching and timeless vision of its sense of self, determine the direction of its development, including the autonomous pursuit of its well-being and the self definition of its identity.
The political system and the underpinnings of the national political, social and economy of the target community or entity is compromised. The economy is sabotaged or under control of the hostile power, the authentic identity deformed through a process of contrived voluntary self repudiation, community spirituality distorted with massive internal defections and willing migration to the impositions of the potent gods of the conquering overlords. The spiritual realm, as Africa continues to experience, is a potent platform for the subjugation of a people. It is the most efficient of conventional soft power. In the context of Africa’s subservient relationship with the external order, soft power is a more potent instrument of war. It does not shed blood. It elicits willing capitulation and in the final analysis, it is cost effective. Also, it recruits local proxies whose continued well-being is a function of continued subservience to the hegemonic power. In the language of prisoners dilemma, it can be sold as a win/win permutation in superfluous contexts such as the strategic interaction between France and large parts of Africa, including Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the message of the youthful French President on the centrality of African leadership in economic development, security and culture is thus intended for both Africans and the newly emerged developmental partners of Africa, such as the Chinese. Speaking at an exclusive session hosted by the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) in Lagos on Wednesday last week, the French leader was said to have canvassed a new partnership, highlighting the critical role of entrepreneurship in driving Africa’s renaissance, and emphasizing the importance of the private sector. His seminal admonition is that the continent’s future was and should be in Africa’s hands. Well said. In this he also focused on the pivotal role of young people in advancing Africa into the future. Some, in the euphoric stupor of the moment, have hastily and contentiously credited the French President with offering a bold and new vision of his country’s relationship with Africa. Every French President in recent memory has sought to infuse new dynamism the direction of Franco-Africa relations. But the more things change, the more they remain the same.
The evolved contemporaneous challenge of French policy in Africa is that the hitherto seamless auto-articulation and imposition of the centrality of a Franco-centric worldview, orientation and policy by entrenched minions in the many vulnerable obscure and backwater capitals in Africa has been in crisis since the last decade of the last century. The transition of the truly misguided generation of Sedar Senghor, Houphouet Boigny, Omar Bongo and Mobutu Sese Seko who were weaned on the innate superiority of France and its culture unfolded in significant crises of French policy in its pre-carrre. Meanwhile, the evolution of the global and Africa’s strategic landscape elicited significant controversies on the validity of the assumptions underpinning policy across the board and thus undermined or rendered obsolete the continued legitimacy of policy, policy instruments and the vitality of policy itself. France has been caught in the multiple attitudinal lags in relation to its African policy emanating from these structural realignments.
The evolution of the strategic landscape was ushered in by the end of the Cold War, the dissipation of Apartheid through the victory of revolutionary and progressive forces in West Africa (Cape Verdes and Guinea Bissau) West Central Africa (Angola) Southern Africa (Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa). These have been complemented by the continuing fragilizing of Nigeria, the largest aggregation of black humanity in a single socio-political space, along political, economic and social realms. The challenge has been exacerbated by an attendant intellectual recession in the policy sphere. In francophone Africa, elevated Africanist sentiments founded on an expansive nationalist consciousness expressed in radical attitudinal transformations of the youth in the post Cold War era has gained ground. This has been compounded by the transition of old and unquestioning geriatric leadership as critical part of the volatile mix. These together present new opportunities as well as challenges for French strategic policy in Africa. That is the intricate canvass Emmanuel Macron has to navigate.
France is sensitive to these developments. Macron’s charm offensive in increasingly prostrate Nigeria, a heart and soul winning policy evangelism, is predicated on the demands of these new realities. This side of policy articulation reflects a more humanistic approach, a soft power engagement, to complement and balance the more realist, sinister or coercive character of France’s unwavering determination to keep Africa under its charge. Under the old realist dispensation, France sought the breakup of a potentially vibrant Nigeria to remove the threat to its hegemonic dominance of the totality sub-regional strategic space. Times have changed for a Nigeria, bogged down in internal afflictions and inflictions, and sadly confused about its place in the global scheme of things. Accordingly, Macron’s smooth venture in Nigeria is in pursuit of a new approach to a seriously degraded adversary to an old preeminent preoccupation in Africa that is fundamentally in conflict with the long term legitimate aspiration with the peoples of Africa for holistic emancipation. The envisioned emancipation of Africa would radically alter the global strategic landscape, including repudiating the actuality of subservient partnerships that is normative in Africa’s relationship with the external order and their associated external others. France would be the loser in this permutation. It must therefore fashion a strategic response to the evolved challenges of the millennium. This must be cost effective. It must be a proactive measure to forestall the potential turpitude of an eventual awakening of a global continental consciousness for full integration.
Accordingly, President Macron’s engagement in Nigeria has sought deep penetration into the circle of social and cultural elite, partnerships with the barons of the national economy and focus on youth. His declarations in relation to the management of the regional security space is the most illustrative of equivocal double speak and diplomatese. France is the first power in West Africa. It is a credential that it cherishes. Every attempt by Nigeria to provide leadership, when it still had a modicum of credible capacity for force projection in the sub-region, has been sabotaged by France or made more difficult. France would yield no space for African leadership on security. The ECOMOG campaign in Liberia was instructive. Yet in even in post war Liberia as recently as the last election, President George Weah was sponsored by francophone Africa acting in lieu of France. This included Cote d’Ivoire, Benin Republic, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville, among others in what may easily be termed a conspiratorial gang up to reintegrate Liberia into France’s orbit of control. During the Liberian conflict promoted by Houphouet Boigny and under Charles Taylor, France held the puppet strings. Weah himself leveraged affinities and personal connection to France cultivated during his professional football career. His immediate and first international official trip on assumption of office was to Paris to pay obeisance. On the Boko Haram menace, the Multi National Joint Task Force for the Lake Chad Basin was cobbled together not by Nigeria. It was instigated by France. The attempt of Nigeria to appoint the Force Commander for the campaign in multi-national campaign in Mali was robustly rejected by France. It is instructive that one of the first foreign capitals visited by newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari was Paris. On the economic front, if the centrality of African leadership is imperative for economic progress, perhaps it is time to abrogate the CFA zone in West Africa and accelerate the movement towards the common currency for ECOWAS region. Also, in the least, let the anachronistic and moribund Conseil d’Entente only recently revived by Alhassan Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire wind up. This would be to enable West Africa to develop integrated structures required for coherent community wide developmental plans. Under these terms, partnership with France would acquire salience for the aspirations of Africans for holistic emancipation.
On the cultural plane, it is reassuring if not totally surprising that the French President chose the Afrika Shrine for his reenactment of a nostalgic rendezvous with a Lagos past. It is a fitting tribute to Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Enigmatic Abami Eda has been of great interest to official France as a revolutionary and cultural icon. I am uncertain if the same energy and attention were devoted to the Makosa king Manu Dibango or even Hugh Masakela: the other two legs of Africa’s tripodal giants of jazz. In a France that has over the centuries provided homes and asylum to a long line of front line historic creative figures, such interest in Fela would be consistent with the national character of France. Given the burden of Fela to highlight the untenable “shuffer, shuffer” conditions of downtrodden masses in the baptized idiocy of the Nigerian universe, the obscenity of Nigeria officialdom, the upended ethics and values in a galaxy of transfixed zombies, the pervasive hypocritical character of the national spiritual firmament, the President of the Masses came to be the authentic voice of the voiceless oppressed. These apart from the incredible musicality and vibrancy of his renditions. In shouldering his burden, Fela exposed the suffocating stench of the strangulating underbelly of the so called giant of Africa. French officialdom would appear to have drawn full millage from this litany of Nigerian woeful reality. It came in handy in French propaganda to discredit the leadership aspiration of the country. The sub text of the collaboration of the French in some of the video production on Fela would seem to have exploited his work to undermine the claims of Nigeria to leadership of the continent. These observations could however be the queasy sentiment of a mind attuned to the opportunistic shenanigans in games that nations play.
Meanwhile, at home, the establishment of a new structure, a Presidential Council for Africa, highlighted as inscribed in the campaign of President Emmanuel Macron, demonstrates the seriousness the President attaches to his plans for Africa. The mandate of the Presidential Council is to work toward the renewal of the partnership between France and the African continent. It aims to give a new face to relations between Africa and France through its joint composition bringing together African and French personalities of France in civil society. Charged with bringing new clarity at the political level to the President of the Republic on Africa, the CPA houses together a dozen personalities from civil society in France. These persons were chosen for their investments in relations between Africa and France in the areas of entrepreneurship, health, sports and culture. French speaking though members are not necessarily originally from francophone Africa. The appointees to the Council have proven record of actions in favour of development in Africa and their will to be engaged in a partnership of shared opportunities between France and Africa. The mandate of the CPA is:
to bring clarity to the state of play in the relations between France and Africa;
formulate concrete actionable proposals in relevant areas relations between France and Africa such as entrepreneurship, sustainable development and education;
Bring to the attention of the President of the Republic African perceptions of France’s policies in Africa, in particular the perceptions of African youth; and
Develop linkages with African civil society and to take their concerns into consideration.
The new youthful black storm troopers on behalf of French hegemony in Africa include; Sarah Toumi, franco-tunisienne, 30 years, Karim Sy, franco-libano-malien, 49, Karim Nomaza Nongqunga Coupez, South-African, 36, Vanessa Moungar, franco-tchadienne, 33, Yvonne Mburu, Kenyan, 35, Jeremy Hajdenberg, French, 43, Liz Gomis, French, 36, Yves-Justice Djimi, French, 36, Diane Binder, French, 37, Jules-Armand Aniambossou, franco-béninois, 55, Jean-Marc Adjovi-Boco, franco-béninois, 54, Sarah Toumi, franco-tunisienne, 30.
Macron is indeed determined. What is not certain is the congruence of his objectives with fundamental structural ad strategic policy alignments needed to be true partners in advancing the legitimate afro-centric aspirations of Africa for holistic emancipation led by Africans, and not France.