Dr. Gary K. Busch*
The concept of françafrique, the system of French colonial and neo-colonial control and dominance of its colonies in Africa is much more than a series of treaties or Pactes Coloniale with the African countries. It represents the institutionalised direct interaction of major French business interests with African political leaders, primarily through the commonality of the French Masonic movements, and the executive actions of the “Africa Cell” of the French Presidency. Its strength lies in the economic control of African economies through the CFA franc zones and the stationing of French troops in strategic bases across Africa with the impunity attached to the carte blanche for French intervention created by mutual defence treaties between France and its client states.
Virtually all the francophone African leaders are in participants in collaboration with the elite cadre of French businessmen and politicians who are the backbone of French Masonic lodges. African Freemasons are affiliated to the same lodges as the French business and political groups. It is impossible to understand how Françafrique works without reference to the Masons. The French Masons represent the elite of French business and politics, Most of them were educated together at the same two schools and most pursue a career in the administration of the French government or the administration of French business.
Freemason lodges maintain a formidable, covert influence within the French judicial and police structures. All three Freemason lodges in France have gained reputations in recent years for being caught out peddling political influence and pursuing false invoicing on state contracts, particularly in companies controlled by the state. Freemasons in the judiciary hamper any investigations through bureaucratic measures designed to torpedo any serious attempt at reform. One of the topmost grievances raised by the muzzled Press is the Grande Lodge National Française’s (GLNF) open-armed embrace of brutal or corrupt African dictators who are Masons. The other two Grand Lodges are no different.
Just as in France, Freemasonry is ubiquitous at the very top in many African states. Denis Sassou Nguesso, the Congolese president, is Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Congo – Brazzaville linked to the National Grand Lodge of France; President Mamadou Tandja of Niger; Chad’s Idriss Deby and François Bozizé of the Central African Republic are among at least twelve African presidents linked to the Masons. In November 2009 Ali Bongo, the new Gabonese President was ordained as the grand master of the Grand Lodge of Gabon (GLB) and the Grand Equatorial Rite, the two predominant Freemason orders in Gabon.
In Congo-Brazzaville, both the current president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, and the former president, Pascal Lissouba, are freemasons, although they belong to different chapters of the order. Mr Lissouba is an initiate of the Grand Orient of France while Mr Sassou Nguesso belongs to a Senegalese lodge affiliated to the French Grand National Lodge. Most of these African presidents, but not exclusively, are francophone: Paul Biya, president of Cameroon , Blaise Campaore, president of Burkina Faso; Robert Guei, former head of Côte d’Ivoire; John Kuffuor, former president of Ghana, to name but a few. There are scores more at Cabinet level and among those who are staffing African regional organisations and banks.
The Masons have always provided the leaders and the staff of French colonialism. The Grand Orient established its first lodge at Saint-Louis in Senegal in 1781 and, as a consequence, the names of a number of distinguished Freemasons are to be found in the history of French colonial rule. The great French empire builder, Jules Ferry, was a Freemason. Their business with their African lodge brothers is done in parallel with the official French policy towards its former colonies. As in the other aspect of Franco-African interaction, their work is largely done in secret, away from the public eye.
Even more clandestine is the French executive’s role in françafrique. A lot of the research on françafrique was conducted by François Xavier Verschave, who coined the term He wrote twenty books and innumerable articles on the subject and he described the secret control system of its leaders as “the secret criminality in the upper echelons of French politics and economy, where a kind of underground Republic is hidden from view.” A lot of this ability to hide what it happening derives from two interlinked processes – the absence of any democratic procedures in the French political system for debating African policy and the empowered French Masons (and their African Presidential lodge brothers) who act to enforce the narrow interests of French business throughout Africa using the institutions of the French State. In return the African Presidents pay a tithe to the French politicians which funds French political parties and candidates and enriches others on a personal basis.
Unlike in ordinary democracies, the French version of democracy is a special case. By tradition in France, foreign affairs are the French president’s private domain. The foreign affairs minister only applies his policies. France is the only Western country where foreign policy is not a debating topic in the national legislative bodies. The sovereignty of the French people does not count for anything even if it has elected the president directly. The Parliament has no checking powers and is quietly relegated to domestic matters. African policy is the personal preserve of the President of the Republic and his team of two or three advisers and assistants; usually from the Ministry of Defence, the DGSE and the Special African advisor. African policy is the policy of the Presidential palace. Men like Foccart, Pasqua, de Bonnecorse translated the President’s wishes and whims into an African policy. The National Assembly, the political parties and the ministries are marginally involved and certainly don’t get to vote on African policies. French African policies are French Presidential policies; no more so than under Mitterand, Chirac and Sarkozy.
Beyond the Presidential and Masonic relations between African politicians and the French state, the whole edifice is supported by the learned dependency of these African states on the continuing control of the French over their economies, currency, fiscal policy and preferential trade policies. After the referendum on independence in 1958, when only Guinea voted for immediate independence, the other French African colonies agreed to become ‘independent’ under certain conditions. They agreed at independence to be bound by the Pacte Colonial; the agreement signed between France and its newly-liberated African colonies which locked these colonies into the economic and military embrace of France. This Colonial Pact not only created the institution of the CFA franc, it created a legal mechanism under which France obtained a special place in the political and economic life of its colonies.
The Pacte Colonial Agreement enshrined a special preference for France in the political, commercial and defence processes in the African countries. On defence it agreed two types of continuing contact. The first was the open agreement on military co-operation or Technical Military Aid (AMT) agreements, which weren’t legally binding, and could be suspended according to the circumstances. They covered education, training of servicemen and African security forces. The second type, secret and binding, were defence agreements supervised and implemented by the French Ministry of Defence, which served as a legal basis for French interventions. These agreements allowed France to have predeployed troops in Africa; in other words, French army units present permanently and by rotation in bases and military facilities in Africa; run entirely by the French and solely under French control.
The colonial pact maintained the French control over the economies of the African states; it took possession of their foreign currency reserves; it controlled the strategic raw materials of the country; it stationed troops in the country with the right of free passage; it demanded that all military equipment be acquired from France; it took over the training of the police and army; it required that French businesses be allowed to maintain monopoly enterprises in key areas (water, electricity, ports, transport, energy, etc.). France not only set limits on the imports of a range of items from outside the franc zone but also set minimum quantities of imports from France. These treaties are largely still in force and operational.
Perhaps the apogee of French control of its ‘independent’ African confreres was the creation and maintenance of a common currency in these territories, the CFA franc. There are actually two separate CFA francs in circulation. The first is that of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) which comprises eight West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo). The second is that of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) which comprises six Central African countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon), This division corresponds to the pre-colonial AOF (Afrique Occidentale Française) and the AEF (Afrique Équatoriale Française), with the exception that Guinea-Bissau was formerly Portuguese and Equatorial Guinea Spanish).
Each of these two groups issues its own CFA franc. The WAEMU CFA franc is issued by the BCEAO (Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest) and the CEMAC CFA franc is issued by the BEAC (Banque des Etats de l’Afrique Centrale). These currencies were originally both pegged at 100 CFA for each French franc but, after France joined the European Community’s Euro zone at a fixed rate of 6.65957 French francs to one Euro, the CFA rate to the Euro was fixed at CFA 665,957 to each Euro, maintaining the 100 to 1 ratio.
The monetary policy governing such a diverse aggregation of countries is uncomplicated because it is, in fact, operated by the French Treasury, without reference to the central fiscal authorities of any of the WAEMU or the CEMAC states. Under the terms of the agreement which set up these banks and the CFA the Central Bank of each African country is obliged to keep at least 65% of its foreign exchange reserves in an “operations account” held at the French Treasury, as well as another 20% to cover financial liabilities.
The CFA central banks also impose a cap on credit extended to each member country equivalent to 20% of that country’s public revenue in the preceding year. Even though the BEAC and the BCEAO have an overdraft facility with the French Treasury, the drawdowns on those overdraft facilities are subject to the consent of the French Treasury. The final say is that of the French Treasury which has invested the foreign reserves of the African countries in its own name on the Paris Bourse.
In short, more than 85% of the foreign reserves of these African countries are deposited in the “operations accounts” controlled by the French Treasury. The two CFA banks are African in name, but have no monetary policies of their own. The countries themselves do not know, nor are they told, how much of the pool of foreign reserves held by the French Treasury belongs to them as a group or individually. The earnings of the investment of these funds in the French Treasury pool are supposed to be added to the pool but no accounting is given to either the banks or the countries of the details of any such changes. The limited group of high officials in the French Treasury who have knowledge of the amounts in the “operations accounts”, where these funds are invested; whether there is a profit on these investments; are prohibited from disclosing any of this information to the CFA banks or the central banks of the African states.
This makes it impossible for African members to regulate their own monetary policies. The most inefficient and wasteful countries are able to use the foreign reserves of the more prudent countries without any meaningful intervention by the wealthier and more successful countries. Convertibility of the CFA franc into French francs through authorised intermediaries is supported by provision for central-bank overdrafts on these accounts. In short, at least 80% of the financial reserves of these African countries are held in the French Treasury under its control. This has been an aggregation of currency reserves since 1961; that is over fifty years of accumulation without recourse by the African states to their capital.
The African states are now querying how it might be possible to recover their tens of billions of dollars from the French Treasury. These funds were invested on the French Bourse in the name of the Treasury, not in the name of the African states. This French Treasury is in a desperate shape. The country is in deep financial troubles. The official debt to GDP ratio of the French government is around 86%, which is higher than in Spain and Britain, if not yet at Italian or Greek levels. That is the “official” debt. France also has liabilities of hundreds of billions of euros via the EU, not counted by the official statistics. Add those in, and you get to a debt/GDP level of more like 145%. Add in the present cost of future pension liabilities, and you’ll be way over the 200% mark. Add in the cost of bailing out France’s own creaking banks, in the event of meltdown elsewhere in Europe, and you’ll be getting to figures that the country cannot possibly pay. If the French cannot pay its own debts it certainly is not ready to release the already hypothecated African reserves back to the Africans.
Financial reality has never been France’s long suit. In its precipitate attack on Libya it used up its annual military budget in the first seven weeks of the campaign. It dug into the African reserves it was holding to pay for the unprecedented attack on Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast which killed thousands of innocent civilians in Abidjan and provoked the murder of others across the country. During the French and UN rampage across the Ivory Coast the citizens bemoaned the fact that the French used African money to buy the bullets that killed them. Now the French are in the military conflict in Mali and are soon to be engaged in the Central African Republic.
The unilateral activities of the French in Africa in an effort to maintain its relevance and a free run for French business have been an unmitigated disaster. French policy has created the very problem the rest of the world was seeking to avoid. In its attack on Kaddafi in Libya (which the rest of NATO ended up paying for) it succeeded in creating a radical Islamist state in Libya, whose al-Qaida colleagues have taken Libyan equipment and training and spread their wings to the rest of West Africa; notably Mali. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is closely allied to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG whom France intervened on behalf of during NATO’s 2011 proxy-invasion of Libya – providing weapons, training, Special Forces and even aircraft to support them in the overthrow of Libya’s government)
Many nations, especially Algeria which on the main conflict route, have been very concerned that the unrest and disorder in Libya has led to the development of a major safe haven and sanctuary there for al-Qaeda and other extremist jihadis; a safe haven to train and re-equip for jihadi activity in Egypt and, especially, Syria.
The problem is that France cannot sustain any military activity on a long-term basis. Its military budget has been stretched to breaking point by the costs of abandoning Afghanistan. It is relying on the UN to pay for the continuing intervention. Hollande, who has antagonised the wealthy French and the business community at home, has little chance of raising money for the war effort in Africa. He is locked in battle with the Sarkozy-UMP Africa Cell in the President’s office which operates without consulting him. The DGSE barely consult him and ignore him in African matters. The French Masons, long a source of support for their Africans, are the very target of Hollande’s attempt to raise taxes and increase fiscal responsibilities among the French multinational business community. The fundamental françafrique coalition has shattered.
The final irony in the planning is that the French expect that the nations of ECOWAS (the West African Community) will send thousands of soldiers to take up the battle in lieu of the French who want to pull out quickly. They will pledge to send them but who will pay for them?
The African states don’t have the money to pay for such an endeavour, partially because the French Treasury has ‘disappeared’ their reserves. The UN doesn’t have the funds and asking the EU and NATO for funds is a no hope request. The US has planes, drones and transport available and in use but has told all who ask that it is not willing to send troops or to pay for others. The US is worried about deep defence cuts on its own and possible sequestration. It isn’t likely to use the remaining funds to assist a campaign in Mali (or the CAR).
So the likely outcome is a degeneration of the conflict that will entrench the AQIM in the region and strengthen the hands of the jihadists in addition to threatening Algeria. This seems to be the last gasp of françafrique in Africa. The French will find it ever harder to keep their traditional businesses in the Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, CAR and Mauritania going. Unlike almost all the other countries involved there are thousands of French nationals in these countries right now – all of whom are targets and possible hostages. This is not a good time to be French in Africa.
* The author is the editor and publisher of the web-based news journal of international relations www.ocnus.net and the distance-learning educational website www.worldtrade.ac. He speaks and reads 12 languages and has written six books and published 58 specialist studies. His articles have appeared in the Economist Intelligence Unit, Wall Street Journal, WPROST (a leading Polish weekly news magazine), Pravda and several other major international news journals