An open letter written to the French Minister for Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé calling for an urgent change to France’s current policies in Africa. Signatories below. This letter was originally published in l’Humanite on April 1st 2011. This translation by David Lundy was published in l’Humanite in English.
Four years ago, on the eve of presidential and legislative elections, thirty French and African organizations presented you with a list of recommendations for an accountable and transparent French policy in Africa – a policy at the service of democracy, human rights and democratic controls both here and there; a policy that does not strike deals with authoritarian and corrupt regimes.
Since the revolution in Tunisia, this demand has become so topical that French diplomacy was forced to review its relations with certain regimes and even engage in a military operation in Libya.
In 2007, while the leading presidential candidates, including Nicolas Sarkozy, were competing with promises to break with “outdated” diplomatic practices, we already thought that this appeal for democracy would have some effect. How could it be otherwise when in the background of our statement lurked a growing disbelief among people vis-à-vis French diplomacy for the exclusive benefit of French economic and geostrategic interests. A policy often marked by political, military or monetary interventionism, it is a throwback to a colonial period so hated in Africa.
Warning our leaders of the dangerous illusions of “stability theory” which means supporting bad regimes until their implosion, we thought we had truly been able to find a sympathetic ear in French decision-makers. An increasing proportion of citizens but also some journalists, MPs and even some diplomats and ministerial advisers gave us this sympathetic ear. But the French government never listened, unless it was to caricature our proposal and to justify the unjustifiable: the perpetuation of a realpolitik described by some as “uninhibited Françafrique” on the basis of timid reforms.
Presidential trips to Libya, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville followed, red carpet welcomes prepared for dictators with their armies invited to parade on the Champs-Elysées last July 14. Ambiguous roles for France in political crises such as Madagascar, Guinea, Mauritania, the stigmatization of migrants, etc… All this amid an all-out promotion of French economic interests, summarised in a quote from Secretary of State for Cooperation Alain Joyandet: “We want to help Africans, but there has to be a return” – a quote very close to the spirit of the Dakar speech delivered by Nicolas Sarkozy in July 2007.
Mr. Minister, we are not nostalgic for a “great” and “virtuous” French policy in Africa. It never existed, as evidenced by the list of scandals and crimes gone unpunished that have marked and marred fifty years of “independence” for Francophone Africa. Everything is built on weak foundations, particularly as there are many misunderstandings and mutual trust has failed. Patiently establishing bridges between peoples, defending values and joint projects on human rights, democratic control, the fight against corruption and the plundering of natural resources, the criminalization of migration, French and African civil society organisations intend to continue to play their part in this project. It is also in the interests of French democracy.
Having been a foreign minister and prime minister, you know very well the workings of the state apparatus which, despite the commitments of the La Baule speech in 1990, continued to blindly support a number of dictatorships. The most tragic example is the political, economic and military support for the regime responsible for the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. There are errors that must be recognized and U-turns that must not be missed.
French diplomacy’s recent support for the liberation movements in the Arab world has been heralded by some commentators as the beginning of an aggiornamento. This change would be rather questionable if, in a situation like that of Libya, interference was to replace indifference. Most importantly, why should the degree of media coverage of riots or expected geostrategic benefits condition French diplomatic support? It is feared, in fact, that this change announced by French diplomacy in the promotion of democracy stops at the southern limit of the Sahara, where the riots are not as publicized as those that were triggered in the Arab world but where despair is just as palpable.
In his recent appearances on television, especially that of February 27, the President hadn’t a single word to say about the political situation in sub-Saharan Africa, despite the highly authoritarian and repressive nature of most of the powers that govern there. Still, crowds began to gather in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Morocco, Mauritania, Djibouti and protests are heard against possible re-election rigged by Heads of State in Chad, Cameroon and elsewhere. These crowds are entitled to consideration by French diplomacy as they wait for concrete steps on your part to finally meet the democratic aspirations of African peoples, including those who still await the fall of their tyrant. We are counting on you to ensure that French diplomacy really follows this route.
- Gustave Massiah (Economist, CEDETIM / IPAM),
- Michel Roy (Director of Advocacy, Secours Catholique / Caritas France),Fabrice Tarrit (Vice-President of Survie),
- Brice Mackosso (Justice and Peace Congo),
- Christian Mounzeo (Rassemblement for Human Rights, Congo),
- Marc Ona (Goldman prize 2009, Brain Forest, Gabon),
- Aziz Maar (Attac, Morocco),
- Jean-Paul Sornay (President of ‘Peuples solidaires’, in association with Action Aid),
- Jean-Loup Schaal (President of the Association for the Respect of Human Rights in Djibouti).
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