Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book review: De la Françafrique à la Mafiafrique by François Xavier Verschave. Bruxelles: Editions Tribord, 2004, 69 pp. Paperback EUR 2,94. 2-930390-10-7

Reviewer: Peter Wuteh Vakunta, PhD

In a 69-page well researched book titled De la Françafrique à la Mafiafrique [From Françafrique to Mafiafrique], Francois Xavier Verschave exposes the underbelly of France and its covert activities in Africa. He contends that Françafrique has evolved from the status of a postcolonial contraption conceived by Charles de Gaulle more than five decades ago to keep French-speaking African countries in perpetual bondage to that of a global mafia organization masterminded by unscrupulous mercenaries like Bob Denard, Le Floch-Prigent, André Tarallo, and Benard Courcelle and ilk. Verschave notes that the substance of his book grew out of testimonies given by Africans who wanted to tell the stories of their plight and wanton pillaging of their respective countries by France, the ex-colonizer: "Je restitue simplement ce que l'on m'a apporté: ce sont des milliers de témoins africains qui sont venus nous expliquer ce qu'ils vivent dans leurs pays. Leur problème, c'est que ces pays ont été divisés par les politiques coloniales, éparpillés; avec de surcroît la repression des dictatures..." (64)

Verschave does not mince words in his condemnation of the nefarious effects of Françafrique on the political economies of the entire African continent: "... cette politique franco-africaine, que j'ai appelée la `Françafrique' et qui est une caricature de néo-colonialisme, est une politique extraordinairement nocive."(6) The intriguing thing about this diabolical caricature is that both Africans and French are acting in collusion to sustain it, and therefore share collective blame for its existence. In Verschave's own words, "la Françafrique...ce sont des Français et des Africains. Donc, évidemment, il y a des Africains qui jouent un rôle important dans le système de domination, de pillage..." (8). All Francophone African Heads of States are painted with the same brush, however, Houphouet Boigny, Gnassingbé Ayadéma, Omar Bongo, Juvénal Habyarimana, and Denis Sassou Nguesso were seen as lynchpins of Françafrique until their demise. Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has outlived them all, now coordinates the dirty job of France in Africa.

Verschave resorts to the anology of the iceberg in a bid to accentuate the unfathomable dimensions and ramifications of Françafrique. According to him, only the tip of the iceberg is visible to the rest of the world; the rest is a closely guarded secret known only to its perpetrators in very high positions of power in France and Africa:"La Françafrique, c'est comme un iceberg. Vous avez la face du dessus, la partie émergée de l'iceberg: la France meilleure amie de l'Afrique, patrie des droits de l'Homme, etc. Et puis, en fait, vous avez 90% de la relation qui est immergée: l'ensemble des mécanismes de maintien de la domination française en Afrique avec des alliés africains" (10). Needless to belabor the point that Verschave is being terribly sarcastic when he refers to France as the best friend of Africa and the bastion of human rights. Even those who have never set foot on the soil of this European nation are aware of the fact that the French motto: liberté, égalité, fraternité, or Liberty, equality, fraternity is a loud-sounding nothing.

Verschave adumbrates four main reasons that motivated Charles de Gaulle to put Françafrique in place to serve as a postcolonial control mechanism. The first reason is the leverage that France has at the United Nations, where allied nations back her up in the event of a vote. The second reason is France's dire need for strategic raw materials (timber, cocoa, coffee, crude oil, etc). The third reason is the astronomical sums of money that African Heads of States sheepishly send to France each time Presidential polls are conducted on French soil. The fourth reason is linked to the role that France played as an ally of the United States of America during the Cold War era. Both countries were in alliance to keep the African continent out of the ambit of Communists.

Verschave is convinced that the inception of Françafrique calls into question the signification of political independence granted to French colonies in Africa more than five decades ago. As he puts it, "pour ces quatre raisons, on met en place un système qui va nier les indépendances."(10)To ensure the success of Françafrique, De Gaulle handpicked a fine strategist in the person of Jacques Foccart to implement his 'dirty' policies in Africa. Foccart's starting point was to select a bunch of African lackeys nicknamed "les amis de la France" or "Friends of France." Many of these so-called friends of France are francophone African presidents holding French nationality. Notorious among them is Omar Bongo who passed away a few years ago and was succeeded by his son, Ali Bongo. Of the several strings that France uses to tie up African nations in order to keep them in a vicious circle of dependency, Verschave singles out the Franc CFA as the most effective tool. He notes that the acronym "CFA" means "Colonies françaises d'Afrique", which could be translated as "French colonies in Africa." Insightful revelation! Who knew that more than five decades after gaining independence from France, francophone African countries remain French colonies? As Verschave puts it, "Ce CFA convertible a permis, pendant des dizaines d'années, de faire évader les capitaux de ces pays. Au moment des campagnes électorales en France, on se mettait à pleurer sur le fait que tel Etat africain, le Cameroun ou le Togo, par example, n'avait plus de quoi payer ses fonctionnaires. Donc, on envoyait un avion avec une aide financière directe, un chargement de billets CFA, à Yaoundé ou à Lome."(14)

The political implication of all these machinations is that Africa is now saddled with demo-dictators who are not the choice of the populace by any stretch of the imagination.These unpopular sit-tight leaders are constantly being propped up by France because they implement French hidden agenda on the African continent. Whether one is looking at the scenario in Cameroon, Togo, Gabon or Congo-Brazzaville, the rules of the game remain the same: dictators buy their tenure at the helm of their countries with astronomical sums of money sent to the Champs Elysée in briefcases on a regular basis. France then sends mercenaries and secrets agents to make sure that elections are rigged in favor of their henchmen in Africa. In the words of Verschave, here is how the system works:"On envoie des urnes transparentes, des bulletins de vote et des envelopes dans ces pays; on déclare: `oui, vraiment, c'est bien, ils arrivent à la démocratie;donc, on va les aider;et en même temps, on envoie dans les capitales de ces pays des coopérants très spéciaux... qui vont installer un système informatique de centralisation des résultants un peu spécial: alors que les gens ont veillé jour et nuit auprès des urnes pour être surs que leur suffrage soit respecté, alors qu'ils ont voté à 70% ou 80% pour chasser le dictateur, ils se retrouvent à la fin avec un dictateur réélu avec 80% des voix..."(20). So much for electoral gerrymandering and fraud à la française in Africa! Little wonder the Biyas, Bongos, Nguessos, Derbys, Ayademas, Mobutus, Boignys and ilk are presidents for life!

One take-away from a careful reading of this instructive book is that the brunt of the underdevelopment of Africa should be borne by France and Africans alike given that African leaders behave like frightened chicken and give the French free rein to manipulate them. Worse, Africa is blighted by two cankers: debilitating corruption and corrosive ethnocentrism or tribalism. To borrow words from Verschave again, "Il y a selon moi, deux principaux poisons néo-coloniaux: la soi-disant fatalité de la corruption et l'instrumentalisation de l'ethnisme" (65).

In a nutshell, François Xavier Verschave's De la Françafrique à la Mafiafrique is a treasure trove of information and hidden facts about the manner in which France persistently fleeces francophone nation-states in Africa. This masterpiece would serve as an eye-opener for those who are unaware of the strategies that France has used to under-develop Africa over the years. It is recommended reading for students, professors and researchers in the domain of Francophone studies. Africans and friends of Africa should read it with an open mind.


1.I have simply documented the testimonies of thousands of Africans who came to inform us of their experiences in their home countries. They observed that their countries have been torn apart and put asunder by colonial policies implemented by dictatorial governments.
2. This Franco-African policy that I have christened 'Françafrique' is a neocolonialist caricature that has extremely deleterious consequences.
3."Françafrique is sustained by the French and Africans. Thus, Africans are certainly playing a crucial role in promoting the domination and pillaging of their continent...
4.Françafrique is like an iceberg. It has a visible face, the part that is exposed to the world, portraying France as the best friend of Africa and bastion of human rights, etc. Then, there is the invisible part that amounts to 90% of France's relations with African countries submerged: the network of mechanisms put in place to keep Africans in bondage with the complicity of African allies.
5. For these four reasons, the French instituted a system that made the independence of African nations a non-starter.
6. This convertible CFA franc has facilitated capital flight from African nations to France for decades. During electoral campaigns in France, you would hear citizens in Cameroon or Togo complaining that the State has become broke and is unable to pay civil servants. The reason is that all the money has been sent from Yaoundé or Lomé,for example, to France to fund the political campaigns of presidential candidates.
7.Transparent ballot boxes and envelopes are sent to these countries; and then the French say:`you see, they are advancing toward democratic governance; let's help them get there; but at the same time, France sends experts particularly savvy in the art of election rigging to install vote-counting computers that are a little special: so, whereas the electorate has kept vigil day and night to ensure that their ballots are properly counted; whereas they have voted at 70% or 80% in order to chase the dictator away from power, the tallies declared often show that the dictator has been re-elected with 80% of the votes cast...
8."In my opinion, there are two neo-colonial poisons: the so-called fatality of corruption and the institutionalization of tribalism.

About the author
DR. Peter Vakunta is professor of modern languages at the United States Department of Defense Language Institute in California.