Paris’ unqualified support of corrupt tyrants, like Omar Bongo, who passed away June 8th of an undisclosed illness in a Spanish clinic, should be closely examined, as it is incompatible with France’s responsibilities as a permanent member of the U.N Security Council. Since the late 1950’s, when it started relinquishing administrative control of its African possessions under the New Order envisioned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during WWII, France has been doing as it pleases on the African Continent in direct defiance of FDR’s wishes of eradicating European colonialism. With Washington preoccupied with the now-defunct Soviet Union, its Cold War adversary, Africa became the playground for France’s perennial and distorted sense of imperial grandeur.
The extent of France’s destructive disposition toward its former African colonies was evident in Nicolas Sarkozy’s disingenuous statement on the passing of Omar Bongo in which he lauded the notoriously corrupt tyrant as “A grand figure of Africa”. Granted the French are characteristically effusive in their Lingua franca, but Sarkozy’s remark was an affront to decency and epitomized the inconsiderate nature of France’s policy in Africa. More ominously Sarkozy’s statement, “France is standing by the people of Gabon and its institutions, at this difficult time, could only mean that Paris is contemplating military intervention to prevent a potential social insurrection in its domain. The time has come for the African Union (AU) to bring the issue of France’s unilateralism to the attention of the Security Council, otherwise the Continent’s French-speaking countries are condemned to a cycle of political instability, violence, corruption, poverty, and dependency upon the rest of the world.
Omar Bongo, a diminutive petty tyrant who ruthlessly ruled the oil-rich African nation of Gabon for 42 years with France’s help, was corrupt to the bones. The man epitomized kleptocracy in Africa and had been widely considered one the world’s richest individuals, while Gabon, the Continent’s 5th exporter of oil, has only 582 miles of paved road on 103.347 square miles of territory. Even in death, Bongo’s legacy would endure because political instability will inevitably follow, as was the case with Mobutu Sésé Séko who ruled Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) as his private domain for 32 years (1965-97).
Omar Bongo was so enamored with his former master and protector that he once said “Africa without France is like a car without a driver”. Needless to say, the man personified sycophancy at its lowest denomination. His self-serving coziness with Charles De Gaulle, George Pompidou, Giscard D’Estaing, Francois Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, guaranteed his lengthy rule but impoverished 1.5 million Gabonese. On June 18, “the grand figure of Africa” will be laid to rest at the aptly named Franceville in Gabon; in attendance will be Nicolas Sarkozy of France who, instead of apologizing to the Gabonese, would certainly seize the occasion to weigh in on Bongo’s succession. As a former citizen of France where he owned many Chateaux and Villas, Bongo should have been interred there, not in Gabon, the land he systematically and unscrupulously pillaged for 4 decades. Besides his cronies and the French, no one would miss him.
With the ultimate goal of protecting its interests in the Central African Republic, France bullied its European partners into sending a peacekeeping force to that country. Asked by the Ivoirians that it removes its forces stationed in the Ivory Coast under a deceptive pretext of protecting French and other Westerners, France was able to sponsor a Security Council resolution mandating a U.N peacekeeping presence in the country under French command. Many countries have contributed, through colonialism, to the development of this civilization but never intended, as France’s attitude toward its former colonies underscores, for the world to be eternally grateful. That is the reason why there aren’t any encyclopedic references to British Africa, Spanish America, or Portuguese Africa, while France’s former African possessions are forever identified as French Africa.
Permanent membership in the U.N Security Council, the all-powerful body empowered to promoting peace and security in the world, requires a strong sense of responsibility that has eluded successive French leaders as it relates to France’s former African colonies. Although France officially stresses the importance of encouraging stability, development, and the support of democratic governments in its former African colonies, the reality remains at odds with this publicly stated policy. Incurably afflicted with the concept of imperial grandeur, France, facing fiscal constraint and unable to fund its myriad of military bases in its former colonies, has now switched to a new approach: making the U.N or the E.U to financially underwrite its African policy.
Despite its nuclear arsenal and one of the best equipped armies in the world, France needs to face the reality that the world has changed. Besides, it would have been unable to militarily defeat a medium-sized country, like Argentina, the way the British did during the Falklands War (1982). Its status as a world power rests on the back of its former African possessions, which incidentally make up the bulk of the world’s least developed countries. In the geopolitical realignment currently under way that will inevitably alter the make up of the U.N Security Council, the great powers ought to seriously consider whether France’s permanent membership in the body is warranted, given its lack of contribution to peace and prosperity and a fundamental disregard for the sovereignty of its former colonies.