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Link: Nodding and Winking

Stephen W. Smith writes about the French retreat from Africa.

This year, all France’s former colonies – except for Guinea, which achieved sovereignty under Ahmed Sékou Touré in 1958 – will commemorate the first half-century of independence. Thirteen countries will recall the curious trajectory that led them from participation in the liberation of their colonial master from Nazi occupation to what the former French prime minister Edgar Faure, an artisan of the French brand of decolonisation, called ‘independence as interdependence’. About 250,000 African soldiers fought Hitler’s Germany for la France Libre (on the beaches of the Mediterranean the African contingents chanted: ‘We’ve come a long way to free France’). But in December 1944, a mutiny of demobilised African infantry in a camp near Dakar was brutally avenged by the French: clearly African hopes of independence were to be sacrificed on the altar of a reinvigorated French grandeur. Then, in May 1947, Léopold Senghor, the great exponent of Négritude, spoke out against what he called ‘kollaboration’ with the colonial power.

There was no royal road to liberation in French sub-Saharan Africa, nor much ‘armed struggle’ for that matter (insurrections in Cameroon and Madagascar were summarily put down): France’s colonies had to wait until 1960 for formal independence. African leaders, who had previously been elected members of the French Assembly and sometimes senior ministers in the metropolitan government, now took over the reins of power in their countries. De Gaulle envisaged the new arrangement as a ‘French system where everyone plays his part’. It was to be based on elite co-optation, within what the anthropologist Jean-Pierre Dozon calls the ‘Franco-African state’. This was not a formula involving a series of relationships between the erstwhile colonial power on the one hand, and the newly independent states on the other, but a unitary Jacobin entity, with big brothers and smaller brothers governing and an unmistakeable centre of power, Paris.

In 1960, Senghor became the poet-president of Senegal and was happy to maintain close ties with France. The initials CFA, which identified the common currency of the Colonies françaises d’Afrique, remained the same, and crucially so did the currency itself, the CFA franc – only now the wording changed to Communauté financière africaine. Six months into Cameroon’s independence, the French army – five battalions, an armoured unit and a fighter squadron – intervened to finish off the only revolutionary rebel movement in a former French sub-Saharan colony. At least 3000 partisans of ‘real independence’ were killed. In 1962, the French army rode out to the rescue of Senghor’s regime without firing a shot. In 1964, the Gabonese president Léon M’ba, toppled but not killed, was reinstated by yet another French military intervention. A further 37 such operations would follow before the end of the Cold War.

The most impressive aspect of the French military shield was its breadth: it wasn’t simply a protection for lackeys and minor potentates. Between 1960 and 1990, 40,000 people are believed to have died as a result of internecine violence in French Africa, half of them in Chad; by comparison, roughly two million died in former British Africa, another two million in former Belgian Africa, 1.2 million in the former Portuguese colonies and another million in the residual category that includes Ethiopia, Somalia, Liberia and Equatorial Guinea. A different indicator, which corrects for demographic imbalances, confirms the value of the pax franca: the number of ‘victims of repression or massacres’ is put at 35 per 10,000 inhabitants in ex-French Africa, 790 in postcolonial Anglophone Africa, 3000 in the Belgian Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, and a staggering 4000 in the Portuguese colonies, which didn’t achieve independence until the mid-1970s.

The motto of French decolonisation, ‘partir pour mieux rester’, was not a fantasy. In the first ten years after independence, the number of expatriates in the ‘former’ colonies more than doubled. In the mid-1980s, 50,000 French coopérants (dispatched by the French government) and private-sector entrepreneurs ran Ivory Coast and its economy. If you went to interview an Ivorian minister in those days, you shook hands with the holder of office and sat down to question his French adviser. Pro-consuls rather than accredited diplomats, France’s ambassadors in Abidjan were like senior civil servants in French overseas departments. It was possible to move back and forth between the civil service and an African administration, making a career in the Franco-African state without compromising one’s promotion and pension rights.

The Cold War provided geopolitical cover for France’s tutelary presence in her neo-colonies. South of the Sahara, the French army remained an auxiliary of the ‘free world’, despite the odd humiliation at the hands of Washington. During the Cold War, Africa’s gendarme was not just a policeman: he was an overseas administrator, a state-tethered businessman prospering on sweetheart deals and, more than anything else, a longstanding addict of an old imperialist hallucinogen known as la plus grande France, or Greater France. The fall of the Berlin Wall meant cold turkey. It also precipitated the erosion of a comfortable trade surplus of around €2 billion a year – between two and three times the revenue from a far greater volume of trade with the US.


Africa’s Dirty Wars
In December 2009, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal African rebel group guided by a wig-wearing commander named Joseph Kony, massacred more than three hundred people in a remote corner of northeastern Congo. Most of the victims were clubbed to death, some were killed with machetes, a few were shot, and a few more were strangled. The LRA, as it is widely known—in Congo it’s simply called tonga-tonga, which means something like “those who attack silently”—had just kidnapped hundreds of people and was moving quickly through the bush. Anyone who couldn’t keep up was killed. Most often the other conscripts, many of them children, were forced to do the killing.
Because that corner of Congo is so isolated and sparsely populated, it took weeks for news of the massacre to filter out, unusual in today’s hyperconnected world. I had to charter a plane to reach the massacre area, because there were no functioning roads close to it. I flew into a little town called Niangara, an old trading post at the confluence of two rivers. During Belgian rule, Niangara was a boom town for cotton and coffee, though you would never know that now. The roofless old Belgian houses are sinking into the elephant grass and the once-paved roads are gluey mud. There was no evidence of war or distress when I landed, not even fresh-faced foreign aid workers in their white vests. When I stepped out of the plane, onto the red dirt landing strip, all I saw were huge leafy trees, their branches dripping with mangoes, and a group of skinny men on bicycles.
This is the story of conflict in Africa these days. What we are seeing is the decline of the classic wars by freedom fighters and the proliferation of something else—something wilder, messier, more predatory, and harder to define. The style of warfare has shifted dramatically since the liberation wars of the 1960s and 1970s (Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau), the cold-war wars of the 1980s (Angola, Mozambique), and the large-scale killings of the 1990s (Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, Liberia). Today the continent is plagued by countless nasty little wars, which in many ways aren’t really wars at all. There are no front lines, no battlefields, no clear conflict zones, and no distinctions between combatants and civilians, which is why the kind of massacre that happened near Niangara is sadly common.

Africa’s Dirty Wars

In December 2009, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal African rebel group guided by a wig-wearing commander named Joseph Kony, massacred more than three hundred people in a remote corner of northeastern Congo. Most of the victims were clubbed to death, some were killed with machetes, a few were shot, and a few more were strangled. The LRA, as it is widely known—in Congo it’s simply called tonga-tonga, which means something like “those who attack silently”—had just kidnapped hundreds of people and was moving quickly through the bush. Anyone who couldn’t keep up was killed. Most often the other conscripts, many of them children, were forced to do the killing.

Because that corner of Congo is so isolated and sparsely populated, it took weeks for news of the massacre to filter out, unusual in today’s hyperconnected world. I had to charter a plane to reach the massacre area, because there were no functioning roads close to it. I flew into a little town called Niangara, an old trading post at the confluence of two rivers. During Belgian rule, Niangara was a boom town for cotton and coffee, though you would never know that now. The roofless old Belgian houses are sinking into the elephant grass and the once-paved roads are gluey mud. There was no evidence of war or distress when I landed, not even fresh-faced foreign aid workers in their white vests. When I stepped out of the plane, onto the red dirt landing strip, all I saw were huge leafy trees, their branches dripping with mangoes, and a group of skinny men on bicycles.

This is the story of conflict in Africa these days. What we are seeing is the decline of the classic wars by freedom fighters and the proliferation of something else—something wilder, messier, more predatory, and harder to define. The style of warfare has shifted dramatically since the liberation wars of the 1960s and 1970s (Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau), the cold-war wars of the 1980s (Angola, Mozambique), and the large-scale killings of the 1990s (Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, Liberia). Today the continent is plagued by countless nasty little wars, which in many ways aren’t really wars at all. There are no front lines, no battlefields, no clear conflict zones, and no distinctions between combatants and civilians, which is why the kind of massacre that happened near Niangara is sadly common.


Free Scotland
Why the Scots want independence. 
Scotland’s nationalist ambitions don’t generally get international attention, but the past few weeks have been a uniquely exciting time in the long-running campaign for Scottish independence. On Jan. 25, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, and his Scottish National Party (SNP) government announced plans for a historic referendum on independence to be held in the fall of 2014, attracting coverage, comment, and curiosity from around the world.
The SNP government’s proposed question is “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” The SNP is  considering whether a second, as yet undefined question should be asked, suggesting an intermediate step of devolving powers to the Scottish  government without full independence. This notion, known as “devo max,” has the  support of a significant portion of public opinion — though this support remains  unmeasurable given that no serious detailed proposals have yet emerged.
London has not responded well to this development. In a speech on Feb. 16, British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to   “fight with everything I have to keep our United Kingdom together.” He  continued: “To me, this is not some issue of policy or strategy or  calculation —  it matters head, heart, and soul. Our shared home is under threat and  everyone who cares about it needs to speak out.” In the end, Cameron may  find that this type of rhetoric will only hasten the demise of the  union he has vowed to protect.
Many are wondering why, exactly, this disquiet has emerged in Scotland. After all, the union has been a pretty peaceful one since at least the 17th century. But there is indeed a strong case to be made for an independent Scotland, a case that has only grown more compelling in light of Europe’s and Britain’s latest economic woes.

Free Scotland

Why the Scots want independence.

Scotland’s nationalist ambitions don’t generally get international attention, but the past few weeks have been a uniquely exciting time in the long-running campaign for Scottish independence. On Jan. 25, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, and his Scottish National Party (SNP) government announced plans for a historic referendum on independence to be held in the fall of 2014, attracting coverage, comment, and curiosity from around the world.

The SNP government’s proposed question is “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” The SNP is considering whether a second, as yet undefined question should be asked, suggesting an intermediate step of devolving powers to the Scottish government without full independence. This notion, known as “devo max,” has the support of a significant portion of public opinion — though this support remains unmeasurable given that no serious detailed proposals have yet emerged.

London has not responded well to this development. In a speech on Feb. 16, British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to “fight with everything I have to keep our United Kingdom together.” He continued: “To me, this is not some issue of policy or strategy or calculation — it matters head, heart, and soul. Our shared home is under threat and everyone who cares about it needs to speak out.” In the end, Cameron may find that this type of rhetoric will only hasten the demise of the union he has vowed to protect.

Many are wondering why, exactly, this disquiet has emerged in Scotland. After all, the union has been a pretty peaceful one since at least the 17th century. But there is indeed a strong case to be made for an independent Scotland, a case that has only grown more compelling in light of Europe’s and Britain’s latest economic woes.