LONDON—In the latter part of July French President Jacques Chirac won considerable western attention with a four-day trip to Africa aimed at boosting France’s influence and ties there. That influence is the starkest evidence of the persisting features of imperialist presence across Africa.
French colonialism, embracing more than a dozen countries of Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, never really withdrew after conceding independence. There are still almost as many French civil servants in those countries as during colonial rule and there are 8,700 French troops stationed in eight of the countries, used at times to prop up governments that are a far cry from democratic.
France endorsed the general line of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to press structural adjustment programs on Africa and other developing areas, as a means of dismantling public sectors and economic protectionism to enable the greater penetration of western capital and transnational companies. But France’s maintenance and manipulation of a franc zone in its former colonies has given it a lever of control over their economies.
Structural adjustment did not make appreciable headway in Africa while its associated policy of making western governmental "aid" dependent on a carrying out of the western concept of human rights and multi-party democracy (promoted especially by the U.S. and Britain) failed to cause real political or social change that could be exploited by western interests.
In the recent period, a drastic revision of aid policy has occurred, particularly by U.S. policy-makers, which is amounting to a virtual writing off of the bulk of Africa as a profitable area of investment. Most African countries have been left buried in such debt that they cannot repay interest or principal, while economic development has gone into reverse.
The U.S. Congress has before it proposals for a 30 percent cut in foreign aid, especially for Africa. This tendency has alarmed European powers that had owned virtually the whole of Africa in the past and have sought to use the old empire links as avenues of economic influence.
The French president’s position is linked with a salient feature of the decolonization steps for the former French colonies: they provide for a form of French citizenship for their people. Chirac fears that an economic collapse of African countries would lead to an insupportable influx of their people to France, which has already occurred in the case of crisis-ridden Algeria.
In a move of another kind, Portugal has undertaken to set up a "Lusophone Commonwealth," ostensibly to establish cultural ties, especially of language, among its former colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe (all in Africa) and Brazil. These have more than 170 million Portuguese speakers. Such ties, of course, would have their economic features.
Portugal is concerned over the proposal from British sources that its Commonwealth be enlarged to include non-former British colonies, including such countries as Angola and Mozambique. Imperialist rivalries are back on the scene in Africa.