Recent violence in Gabon and Madagascar, and a contested election in Mauritania, have added fuel to the idea that France ‘s influence looms large in the political arenas of her former African colonies, where it still has wide-ranging political and economic interests. This notion is often referred to as Françafrique.
Presidential elections in Gabon were mired with accusations of fraud as Ali Bongo, son of recently-deceased president, Omar Bongo, was declared the victor. Post-electoral violence lead to the torching of French consulate in Port-Gentil, a city that also hosts the offices of French oil company Total.
In Madagascar, promising peace talks initiated in Maputo by an international mediation group eventually fizzled and today, protests were violently repressed by the transitional government. In the capital, Antananarivo, a few protesters were seen harassing vazaha ( foreigners) near hotel Glacier as military forces repressed protests against the formation of a government that did not include all the political groups as was agreed during the Maputo peace talks.
And in Mauritania, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who took over after a coup d’ etat a year ago, saw his power legitimized in an election that his opponents consider as potentially fraudulent. Yet Mauritanians wonder why France was one of the first nations to recognize (fr) the outcome of the elections.
The notion of Francafrique is such a widely accepted concept that in January 2008, former French Secretary of State for Overseas Development, Jean-Marie Bockel, stated that he was willing to “sign the death certificate of Françafrique”
The cozy living conditions that African leaders enjoy in France has been well-documented. The map of real estate properties in Paris of family of African dictators published by Rue89 is a telling evidence that France's effort to distance themselves from dictators is more words than action. The NGO cellule Francafrique lists details of evidences supporting the Francafrique concept with reports and photos on flickr.
For instance, Malagasy and French blogs were quick to point out that French Ambassador Chataignier was the first foreign officer to meet with Rajoelina the day after the coup d'etat in Madagascar. Malagasy blogger NJ links to the following video that aims to explain how Francafrique works in Madagascar:
A reason bloggers often cite for France's involvement in Madagascar is the potential for oil farming in the region of Bemolanga. Total has acquired 60% ownership of the Basin and is expected to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day for more than 30 years. Reuters reports that the reserve of Tsimiroro could produce 1.7 billions barrels.
However, one Malagasy blogger Vony offers an alternative to anger towards French citizen in reaction to Francafrique. Vony writes in an open letter to French citizens in Madagascar (fr):
On dit que vous, Français, venez du pays des droits de l’Homme
Mais on sait aussi que vous vivez désormais dans un pays où la terreur règne,
Parce que Madagascar est aussi une partie de votre histoire, nous vous demandons
solennellement de nous soutenir et nous aider à retrouver notre dignité de
Malgaches et notre fierté de vivre sur cette île [..] Nous Malgaches au pays, en France et à l’étranger faisons appel à votre solidarité envers votre peuple ami et à votre foi en la démocratie et le respect des droits de l’Homme.
Parce que vous êtes aussi menacés par l’avenir sombre et désastreux qui nous guettent tous, , ne détournez pas les yeux mais tendez nous la main pour mieux dénoncer ce que vous ne toléreriez pas dans votre propre pays!
But we also now know that you live in a country (Madagascar) where terror reigns,
Because Madagascar is also part of your history now, we ask for your help in order to retrieve a sense of dignity and pride for the island [...] we Malagasy call for your solidarity towards a friendly nation and your faith in democracy and the respect for human rights. Because you too are threatened by the dark future ahead, don't turn your eyes away but reach out to us to denounce what you would not tolerate in your own country
Tahina writes about yesterday's violence and how it brought back traumatic memories:
My bus line passes through the 13 Mai Square, a hot spot if not the hottest after the Ambohijatovo Park. And this logical question asked to the conducteur before getting on the bus “Do you go till Analakely?”, “Yes, Sir.” Along the street you pay attention to any abnormal things, people gathering at one place, suspicious traffic, you to stretch your ears to over hear others’ conversations. You take out your mobile and try to call someone who’s supposed to be downtown to know if he’s safe and ask him what he’s witnessed. All of that recalls me bad things. Things that I’m likely to live again in the days to come.
In Gabon, Malagasy blogger Harinjaka, who is currently based in Libreville, writes about potential evidence of fraud that led to Ali Bongo's victory:
of the cards featured in the image above, the one on the left is authentic, while the one on the right has been forged. The difference is quite clear – the one on the left has been stamped after the photo was attached, whereas the photo on the right was not stamped with the card, meaning that the photo can be changed – so that several people can vote with the same electoral card.
Here is a video of a Gabonese woman accuses France of being directly responsible for Bongo's fraudulent election (fr):
Such statements have often been dismissed in the West as nothing more than conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, the recent turmoils in Gabon, Mauritania and Madagascar have made Francafrique feel very real to African bloggers and citizens.