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Françafrique: the new networks

By François Soudan
Posted on Friday, 4 June 2010 11:07

In the Know features an interview, opinion or analysis on the events making the news in Africa each week

French President Nicolas Sarkozy played host to 38 African heads of state in Nice this week for the 25th Africa-France summit. Business ties, UN security council representation and Africa’s influence on the world stage were high on the agenda.

Jeune Afrique‘s editor François Soudan provides a practical guide for those wanting to get under the surface of the new Françafrique.

The 25th Africa-France summit fell in the 50th year of African independences. Held in Nice between 31 May and 1 June, the summit was perhaps symbolic of the changes in the nebulous ‘Françafrique‘, the historical networks of power that bind former African colonies to France.

Since the 15th May it has become clear that the liberation of the French university student Clotilde Reiss, who had been held in Iran on charges of spying, was due in part to a Senegalese intervention. At the centre of this intervention lay the lawyer Robert Bourgi, as talented as he is multifaceted, and heir to the know-how of Jaques Foccart, the man General De Gaulle tasked to keep francophone Africa in the French orbit.

Only three men knew about the secret voyage at the end of March to Iran taken by Mr Bourgi and Karim Wade, son of the Senegalese president: Abdoulaye Wade himself, Nicolas Sarkozy and his secretary-general Claude Guéant, to whom the two emissaries regularly spoke on the phone from Iran about the progress of their mission.

Neither French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, nor Sarkozy’s diplomatic advisor Jean-David Levitte, nor even the head of the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (France’s security services), Erard Corbin de Mangoux, knew anything about the shadowy journey. The cult of secrecy, the short-circuiting of institutional networks, the parallel contacts run by someone with a sulphurous reputation showed that Foccart’s methods had been successfully transposed into the orient.

Foccart, the grand puppeteer

If the incestuous Françafrique is dead, the networks are still very much alive. With one big difference: they have no centre. Originally there was Foccart, who spent most of his time looking after the African ‘pre carre‘, pulling all the strings in the manner of a grand puppeteer. Now there is Claude Guéant, for whom Africa is only one preoccupation amongst others, and who does not intervene directly except on very key issues.

This has lead to multiple and often-complementary networks, bound together by lawyers, judges, and doctors; some hostile like NGOs, sometimes Masonic, but which all work with real solidarity and opacity.

Another evolution: these networks are now as much afro-French as franco-African and they frequently interlink. Laurent Gbagbo, Paul Biya, Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Ali Ben Bongo, to cite only a few, all have their own networks of influence that also borrow from the French réseaux.

A consequence of this complex alchemy is the appearance of the missi dominici, envoys whose principle loyalties are hard to fathom. One needs sharp eyes to understand the hierarchy of allegiances of Robert Bourgi, for example. Sarkozy and Guéant first, then Wade, then Ali Bongo Ondimba, Ould Abdelaziz, Gbagbo and others. In the Françafrique domain, everyone walks with a mask.

Visit our sister site Jeune Afrique for more coverage of the Africa-France summit, and to read more (in French) on France’s relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa

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