During a press conference at the G20 Summit in Hamburg Germany, a journalist from Ivory Coast asked why there was no Marshall Plan for Africa to which French President Emmanuel Macron responded (translated):
the Marshall Plan is a plan of material reconstruction in countries that had their balance, their borders and their stability. The challenge of Africa, it is totally different, it is much deeper, it is civilizational today. The Marshall Plan you want for Africa is also a plan that will be supported by African governments and regional organizations. It is through rigorous governance, the fight against corruption, a struggle for good governance, a successful demographic transition. When countries still have 7 to 8 children per woman, you can decide to spend billions of euros, you will not stabilize anything.
The remarks caused a storm with President Macron being accused of racism and for good reason.
Firstly, while Macron fairly pointed out some of the challenges facing some African states including complex democratic transitions, it is mute to speak of the challenges facing Africa without addressing the causes of these challenges. The issues facing Africa are a direct outcome of economic, political, cultural and social exploitation of Africa, its natural resources and its manpower during the colonial era. France had a very extensive colonial empire throughout Africa especially in the larger parts of North and West Africa. The atrocities, including wanton economic exploitation perpetrated by France, are well documented. A key component of French colonization was imposition of taxes in the form of currency, natural resources or labour upon its colonies for the benefit of the French government, whose economy was struggling at the time following the 1870-71 war.
Even in the post-colonial era, France continues to maintain a hold over some of its former African colonies’ resources. Due to a colonial pact, fourteen Francophone African countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal deposit over 50 per cent of their national reserves into France’s central bank to date. The money is supposedly held in trust by the French government to guarantee the stability of the CFA Franc. The former colonies can only access up to 15 per cent of the reserves in a given year.
Considering the extensive economic exploitation of Africa by France, Macron, and indeed the Republic of France, lack the moral authority to lecture Africa on its ‘challenges’ . France has for decades attempted to sanitize its ugly past by creating the impression that its economy, and certainly the entire nation, was built on legitimate means, leveraging on the ingenuity of its people, which is far from the truth.
If France is genuinely interested in solving the ‘challenges of Africa’, it should compensate its former colonies for the atrocities it inflicted during the colonial and post-colonial eras including slavery, mass killings and exploitation of economic resources. On September 23, 2009 during the 64th session on the UN General Assembly, former President of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi, called for reparations amounting to 77.7 trillion dollars by former colonial masters, including France, for “the resources and wealth that had been stolen in the past. Colonization should be criminalized and people should be compensated for the suffering endured during the reign of colonial power”. Of course, France has not paid any compensation to its former colonies to date. In fact, former President of France, Francois Hollande, publicly declined to repay to the government of Haiti, a former colony, the hefty fee it charged the country for decades in order to recognize its liberation as an independent nation. With such a dainty record, it is no wonder that Macron’s remarks were met with such severe criticism.
Further, the audacity to claim that Africa’s challenge is its civilization has imperialistic undertones that propagate racism. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb “civilize” means to bring (a person, place, group of people, etc.) to a stage of social development considered to be more advanced, especially by bringing to conformity with the social norms of a developed society. Accordingly, the notion of a civilized versus uncivilized culture denotes a degree of comparison in which one culture has been placed on a pedestal as being symbolic of superiority and general acceptability so that any other culture that does not conform to these accepted standards is considered primitive and as a result inferior. It is apparent that when Macron talks about “civilization” being a challenge in Africa, he is pitting African culture against the French culture or the wider European/American culture, which he imagines to be the superior culture.
His remarks have colonial undertones tracing back to the colonial era in which colonial powers spearheaded an aggressive campaign in their territorial colonies geared towards replacement of the African culture with European culture. The campaign pervaded every aspect of African life including the naming of children, dressing, educational content, institutionalizing the adoption of foreign languages, religious conversions and trade practices. In this context, modernizing Africa effectively meant a complete erasure of African culture and identity which was and still is largely unknown or misunderstood largely because of ignorance and general disinterest in learning about the various African cultures.
For Macron to continue to perpetuate such ridiculous ideals in a post-colonial modern society is indeed shameful, lazy and ignorant. Further, his assertion that African countries have 7 to 8 children per woman which makes it difficult to stabilize Africa is outrageous, mostly because, it is a gross exaggeration. Nonetheless, the statement goes back to cultural comparisons. African culture is largely family-centric and family units tend to be larger than the typical European family.
All in all, President Macron’s remarks were quite distasteful and unfortunate. It should be interesting to see the extent to which his views on Africa will influence France’s foreign policy on Africa.