Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Illusion of French assimilation

The ideal of the French republic: that everyone is equal and indistinguishable in the eyes of the state. No matter what their creed or where they come from, all French citizens are identical in their Frenchness is obsolete and no longer relevant in today's global community. This approach to integration, based on the concept that everyone is equal in the eyes of the republic, was also the basis of Napoleonic imperial ambitions and France's colonial ambitions in the 19th century. This idea would last until the end of the second world war with the advent of independence wars in Indochina and Algeria.

For Britain, the independence of her former African colonies was the signal for a clean break. But for France, blinded by that particular gallic arrogance, derived from memories of the French revolution, Napoleonic despotic grandeur and her alleged "mission civilatrice", independence was a humiliation, the ingratitude of populations upon whom she had conferred French citizenship and la civilisation Francaise. Hers was a "mission civilatrice," not simply a vulgar commercial venture the likes of the British East India Company. Its rejection was a rejection of her civilisation. Many Africans believed this myth and flocked to France to fuel her post-war economic boom, to sweep her streets and do her dirty work that no french citizen wanted to do(these are the men and women whose grand children are now rioting because they feel excluded from Frenchh society trapped in the bleak concrete high rises where they live).

Independence was just an excuse for France to revise her relationship with Africa, where she has remained commercially and politically engaged ever since. She turned to Africa for cheap labour in the 1960-70s. The French have been quick to intervene militarily to prop up African despots like Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, and Omar Bongo in the Gabon. To overthrow dictators out of its favour like Badel Bokasa in the Central African republic. Or to support and finance a genocidal ethnic dictatorship like the Hutu regime in Rwanda in 1990-94. Several former African French colonies share an artificially overvalued common currency, the CFA (communaut? financiere africaine) franc, controlled by the Banque de France in Paris. French car manufacturers, oil companies, and construction companies retain a virtual monopoly in Francophone Africa. Kickbacks skimmed from economic aid to Africa, are used to fund French political parties.

This French neo-colonial edifice, appropriately named Francafrique by the late Francois-Xavier Vershave, but officially known as "La Francophonie(y?), was built by Jacques Foccart, eminence grise of Gaullist diplomacy. And in whose control it would remain up to his death in 1997. With the secret services and the army at its disposal, Gaullist African policy, like the french atomic bomb, served to maintain country's "rank" among super powers. Post-war french demands for a multipolar world and not one split between two big powers were all attempts at salvaging the remains of past imperial grandeur of a nation weakened and humiliated by defeat and occupation at the hands of the German "boche" before being liberated by the lifelong "Anglo-saxon" enemy. Without a Franchophone neo-colonial empire, De Gaulle and all his succesors feared and still fear, that France might not have a "History" in the twenty first millenium. The present riots by young African immigrants around the country and the gloomy economic prospects are proving these fears true... Now that the barbarians are in the frech midst, "the fire next time!"


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12:31 AM  

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