How much money does France make in French-speaking Africa?

France secures access to markets in its 14 former colonies in Africa, to this date, 57 years after independence. Benefits are of commercial interest: access to resources and markets. Mechanisms to support this are a shared currency (the CFA-franc), military presence, secret diplomacy and marketing its language. But … change is on the rise.

Photo: Macron visiting Burkinabe students (Nov 2017) Source:

While researching about the CFA-franc, I wondered: why does France make all these efforts? And who benefits from it? Sceptics told me that 1) France hardly benefits from francophone Africa these days; that 2) a stable currency like CFA is a blessing for weak African economies; and 3) that we — Europeans — have nothing to do with it, since African leaders should be able to solve this by themselves.

It took me 4 months of desk research to be able to answer these questions. And interviews with:

who helped me to understand and to analyse the piles of information.

In this second journalistic story on France’s relations with French-speaking Africa, I am questioning: How much money does France make in countries that are amongst the poorest in the world? And will Macron — the French President claiming to bring innovation — change his African policies in favour of economic and democratic development in francophone Africa?

French tools to remain power after colonialism

After colonialization ended in 1960, France continued to secure access to resources and markets in its former African colonies. “France still has a strategic interest in maintaining the historical links to its former colonies, [also during the last decades] facing the rise of China in Africa,” Balde explains. These colonial practices — the so-called Françafrique — were modelled by President De Gaulle’s Africa advisor Foccart, right after independence and are as follows:

  • Monetary control through a shared currency: the CFA-franc. It comes together with a set of regulations or so-called monetary agreements. One is to have part of the foreign exchange reserves of the 14 African countries held at the French Treasury in Paris. Nowadays, this amounts to 50% and €9.5 billion euros.

Read more on the CFA-franc: Dear President Macron, it’s time to let go your outdated African policies

However, since 1999 — the very start of the introduction of the euro — francophone Africa became less dependent on France, as Balde mentions, because Paris isn’t deciding upon the valuation of the CFA-franc, it is now done by the European Central Bank. It loosened ties between francophone Africa and France, but doesn’t yet provide monetary sovereignty.

  • Military presence at strategic locations, like “in Gabon for oil,” gives Hoebink as an example. Six francophone countries signed military agreements (accords de défense) or technical military cooperation agreements with France, right after independence.
Graphic: The 6 countries that signed a military agreement (source: MAliLink)

According to the French Senate, the accords involved:

  • A French intervention guarantee in case of aggression. During Chirac’s presidency 23 operations plus 10 UN mission were launched in Africa between 1997 and 2002.
  • The maintenance of military bases. During President Mitterrand’s term (1981–1995), there were as much as 60,000 French troops stationed in francophone Africa, according to MAliLink.
  • Training of troops, advisory assistance, military equipment, maintenance and logistical support in the event of a crisis.
  • “Some of the agreements contained secret clauses, giving France a monopoly on the rights to exploit natural resources in the countries concerned,” says former Africa advisor to President Sarkozy, Romain Serman at MAliLink. Nowadays, Najman adds: “Algeria is the only country with a long-term agreement with France on gas trade.”

“These days, France doesn’t want and cannot intervene in every conflict in Africa,” says Niang at The Conversation. “Military assistance is often provided as technical assistance to the local military and logistical support.” Moreover, “France chooses more collaboration with the EU and UN, rather than going alone,” like it does in Mali, says Niang.

And although the number of French troops in Africa dropped dramatically to 11,000, it is still a 63% of all French forces, who are “permanently stationed or temporarily deployed in Africa.” Of which 5,000 are mobilised in Chad and Ivory Coast, according to the French Senate. Another two French permanent military bases are found in Gabon and Senegal. Other military bases have been closed, according to MAliLink.

  • Political connections between French and African old elite men, closing deals or as Bennyworth in International Relations puts it “trading political and business favours.” The last two French presidents, Sarkozy and Hollande, also maintained “privileged relations with the African political class,” according to Balde.

For example, President Hollande directly wrote to the Senegalese president at the time, Macky Sall, when the pan-African company Dangote Cement wanted to start a branch in Senegal and become a direct competitor to a subsidiary of the French Vicat. A multinational in cement with 65% of the local market share. However, Hollande’s interference wasn’t successful, as Sall let it to the court to decide. “The Dangote plant was completed and commissioned in December 2014,” says Akinyinka Akinyoade, one of the writers of the book Entrepreneurship in Africa.

In addition, almost every French President have had his own Africa advisor, “independent from any Ministry (e.g. Foreign or Economic Affairs or the AFD) and in direct contact with the secret service,” Hoebink explains. “Some have led secret operations in French-speaking Africa,” which have led to several political interferences in coups and killings.

  • La Francophonie: French language and culture promotion with the aim to expand the trade-relations between Francophones and the export of typical French products for those who identify with French culture. Seventy years of efforts were “to institutionalise the linguistic, cultural and educational links between France and francophone Africa,” says Martin in International Relations. To show the importance of the Francophonie for France, Hoebink mentions: “In the past, the governmental development agency was called the Ministry of Development Cooperation and Aid money was spent on spreading the French language.”

At the Francophone African Business Forum in Amsterdam on 1 November, two entrepreneurs mentioned the importance of language too: “Most Dutch don’t speak French very well, which makes it difficult to discuss business.”

I shortly introduce African politics of the last three French presidents and the goals they had with it below:

Sarkozy’s African policies

Sarkozy was the first president who called in 2008 to renegotiate the eight outdated military agreements with the former French colonies. This time “everything will be transparent and public,” he said, as shows the online available Agreement with Mali. That involves collaboration “in accordance with common interests,” like training of Malian military staff and the provision of military equipment.

Hollande’s African policies

The military obligations in francophone Africa became more of a burden for France. Moreover, military initiatives by the African Union in the 1990’s further weakened France’s power. During Sarkozy’s term two model agreements were made in 2009 and 2012 and signed in 2014 (during the rule of President Hollande), also by African states that previously had no ‘military agreement’ with France.

However, “Sarkozy’s trips to former colonies with business entourages in tow, made reform of political Françafrique difficult,” says Crumley in International Relations, to the frustration of Africans and French diplomats.

Hollande’s focused on the old strategy of Francophonie to expand markets for French companies in sectors like ICT, health, finance, infrastructure and mining. The goal was to expand the number of French-speakers up to 770 million people by 2050.”When people speak the same language, trade increases with 65%” and thus employment in France would increase, according to Jacques Attali in the report La Francophonie et la Francophilie, moteurs de croissance durable’ to President Hollande, in August 2014.

What’s next with Macron?

The number of Francophones would grow naturally through population growth. Besides, the government institution for Francophonie is promoting the language (e.g. through Alliance Française, RFI and TV5). If the strategy was to be unsuccessful, the market for French companies would decline (in favour of English, Spanish and Arabic speakers) and may lose — Attali calculated — 120,000 jobs (0,5%) by 2020 and 500,000 by 2050.

Did Hollande’s strategy work out well? Nowadays, approximately 274 million people speak French as their official language in 29 countries (which equals 3.6% of the world population). It means that the French-speaking population has grown already with 44 million people over the past 3 years, since the writing of Attali’s report. In a similar pace, it will be 714 million people by 2050 (but it probably will go faster, looking at the forecasts of Africa’s population growth to be doubled by 2050).

It’s not yet certain if or how President Macron will bring change to French African policies. It is hopeful that President Macron says he wants to innovate France, as well as the relation it has with Africa.

“The time of Françafrique is over. I am like you, from a generation that has never known Africa as a colonised continent. I am from a generation that doesn’t come to tell Africans what to do.” ( Le Monde)

But, let us first look at: why does France put all the efforts in French-speaking Africa? And for whose benefit?

French benefits in francophone Africa: access to resources and markets

The benefits for France used to be clear: 60% of francophone Africa’s export used to go to France in 1950, Balde says. In addition, all colonisers — and so did France — used to impose immense import tariffs on former colonies (1962–1987).

These days, import tariffs are low because of increased competition (e.g. from China), international agreements like Cotonou and Everything but Arms, and are negotiated at a more equal basis. Moreover, French trade benefits have fallen ever since the colonial era. Currently, the total export of francophone countries to France equals 0,34% of France’s total import. That is why Najman concludes: “The trade between France and francophone Africa is […] getting smaller and smaller. […] Export is a big issue for the African countries, but it isn’t for France.”

A closer look reveals that France remains the world’s 2ndimporter of African products (China took over its first place) and the world’s 4thexporter of French products to Africa.

Main trade products

And looking at the main products France imports and exports one will see that francophone Africa is certainly of great importance to France. “Africa remains a significant export market,” agreed the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies in 2009.

The total export from francophone countries to France equals 5.3% and €1.6 billion euros. These are the main products going from francophone Africa to France:

Graphic: Top exports from francophone Africa to France x 1000 (2016) Source:

To show their significance for France:

  • Cacao from the world’s leading cacao producer, Ivory Coast, comprises of 9% of all imported cacao to France. Cameroon adds another nearly 2% to it.
  • Manganese ores from Gabon comprises 2% of the total manganese going to France, used for stainless and chirurgic steel. Gabon is the world’s 2ndproducer of manganese, with 15% share of the world market and 25% of the world’s reserves. Moreover, Congo-Brazzaville exports ‘slag, ash and residues of metals and arsenic’ to France (7%) and Burkina Faso exports zinc (1.7%) to the French.
  • Uranium from Niger makes 17% of the total amount of uranium used in France for nuclear power. Nigerien uranium accounts for nearly 40% of the global supply.
  • Wood in the rough, mostly from Congo-Brazzaville and Central African Republic (CAR) comprises of 9% of the total imports of raw wood to France. For all wood products combined, francophone Africa represents 4% of the total import to France, with Gabon and Cameroon as the main producers.
  • Fruits from the French-speaking African countries represents 7% of the total imported fruits to France. Main producers are Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
  • Mineral fuels have long been a major export product from francophone African countries to France. Presently, Equatorial Guinea represents only 8% of the total exported oil to France. Chad and Gabon represent a similar share. Oil is mostly imported from other countries, like Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Russia and Angola.
  • Fish from Senegal equals almost €3o million euros. Although it is only 8% of the total fish the French consume, it is 10.3% of the total amount of fish that Senegal exports. European, Russian and Chinese trawlers fish up to 250 tons per day in West-African seas (40% of it illegally) which causes overfishing and stock depletion, loss of food security and the damage of local economies. This is possible because of Europe having Fishery Agreements with 8 countries in West Africa. West-African countries miss out on an income of €1.9 billion Euros for fish-related business.

The total import of francophone countries from France equals 13.9% and €4.4 billion euros, with the main products going from France to francophone Africa:

Graphic: Top imports to francophone Africa from France x 1000 (2016) Source:

Some remarks to it:

And who is benefiting?

  • France is the worlds’ biggest exporter of cereals to Africa. The value of French wheat exports to Senegal, Ivory Coast and Cameroon was €818 million euros and 25% of the total exports in 2011–2012, according to France Export Céréales. “Of all food items, cereals are the most politically vulnerable,” says Ton Dietz. “Particularly in countries where cereals products like bread and maize meal are subsidised by the government and where rising food prices often result in urban riots.”
  • Mineral fuels importers are, obviously, mostly countries who don’t export to France, like Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo. Cameroon being the exception.
  • Arms and tanks. France is the world’s 5th exporter of arms, selling yearly for about €16 billion euros. According to Najman: “Less than 10% of it is sold to Africa”. The number of sales differs hugely from year to year, because an order will typically be in a certain year. In 2016, CAR and Togo were the top importers of arms and the like from France.
  • Aircraft importers in 2016 were Niger and Ivory Coast.

In general, francophone Africa’s top importers from France are:

In absolute numbers Mali is amongst the 5 biggest importers from France — out of the 14 francophone African countries . Relatively, Congo and Guinea are among the top importers from France.

And who is benefiting?

Africa is interesting to companies because of its growing market: economic growth with growth rates between 4.7 and 6.5% (whereas the economic growth in France is only 1.6%) and a fast growing population and urbanisation. Looking further into the access to African markets, there are many advantages French companies benefit from:

  • “Still having access to raw materials on cheaper terms,” says Sylla, through deals with African elites.
  • Benefiting from a position, acquired during colonialism and the heydays of Françafrique. Applicable for multinationals like Orange Telecom and Bolloré Logistics. And it is remarkable — to say the least — that a significant number of the French companies working in Africa are or used to be government-owned companies, like uranium-mining company Areva or producer of arms Thales. A ‘funny’ detail: even the printing of CFA-money is commercialised and printed in France, according to the newspaper Le Monde.
  • Freely transferring CFA-franc profits to Europe and secure it by converting it into euros.
  • Evading tax, like all multinationals around the world, by shifting profits to tax paradises, like Luxembourg.

Sylla summarizes: “The majority of French companies will tell you that they have no future without Africa.” A statement that is certainly true for wood-trader Rougier and Bolloré Logistics, that have profits that account for respectively 65% and 80% from their work in Africa.

Unfortunately, there was only one company that answered my questions (“I am sorry, but we cannot reveal sales figures.”). Below information is from the company’s annual reports and investors’ information, as well as from Survie’s Petit guide de la Francafrique — un voyage au coeur de scandale in which François-Xavier Verschave and the affiliated ngo Survie researched many French company scandals in francophone Africa.

Some examples of companies having access to raw materials on cheaper terms

  • Areva has been mining uranium in Niger for 50 years and is 87% government-owned. Nigerien mines account for 17% of the total amount of uranium France uses for military purposes and nuclear power. Nuclear energy is for own use (75% of all energy in France is nuclear energy) and to export it again to other countries, at a total amount of €3 billion euros each year, according to World Nuclear Association.

The uranium accounts for 25.5% of the Nigerien exports, which means a huge “dependence of the Nigerien economy on this mineral,” says Balde, “and indirectly on France.” Moreover, according to Oxfam France, in Niger, nearly 90% of the population has no access to electricity.

“The uranium mine in Niger, called Imouraren, was obtained through French diplomatic support for Mamadou Tandja’s coup,” Granvaud and Belfond mention. “Uranium prices were negotiated with his successor and Tuareg rebels. The current president, Mamahadou Issouffou, received a donation from Areva of €35 million euros in 2012 to purchase a presidential aircraft. And in 2015, almost all 200 Nigerien employees were fired all of a sudden.

Areva somewhat bettered its life in 2006, thanks to the implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative ( EITI). “Areva finally agreed to comply with the taxation mining law of 2006,” say Granvaud and Belfond. (Although legal tax evasion is still practiced.) Moreover, the mines in Niger are Sub-Saharan Africa’s 8 thbest-governed natural resource sector, Balde mentions. Which is not too much celebratory, with 54 points out of 100 (compared with Botswana (61/100) and Norway (89/100).

  • Compagnie Fruitière originally exports fruits and vegetables from Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, and outside the franc-zone from Ghana, and Portugal. Nowadays, it also acquires and develops banana and pineapple plantations and ship, ripe and distribute fruits. The company’s produce comes for 56% from Africa. The total generated turnover is €800 million euros.

In 2013, the Ivorian subsidiary of Compangie Fruitière, Plantations du Haut Penja, was accused of aerial spraying of toxic pesticides. Pesticides that were already banned in France between 2000 and 2011. The NGO Front Africain pour la Défense de la Nature et de l’ Homme carried out a research, supported by the UNDP, that links the used chemicals with diseases. Like “respiratory diseases, dermatoses and an abnormally high cancer rate,” besides “soil and river pollution,” also reported the French newspaper Libération. UNDP never made public the NGO’s report.

Other accusations are about corruption, land grabbing at the expense of small-holder farmers and poor working conditions, like lack of freedom of association and unfair dismissals. The company denies all accusations and affirms to respect its policy of social and environmental responsibility. Plantations du Haut Penja was GlobalGap and ISO14001 certified in 2001 and labelled as fair trade by Max Havelaar.

Some examples of state companies entangled in Françafrique:

  • Total is among the 12th biggest companies in the world. Since 2000, it combines the former government-owned Française des Pétroles and Elf-Aquitaine. “French government reduced its share in the firm to less than 1%.

Africa represents 49% of Total’s oil production in 2014, mostly in Nigeria and Angola, at the periphery of the franc-zone. The entire company has a turnover of €200 billion euros in the same year, which equals 1.7 times the GDP of the entire francophone African region.

“Elf has been involved in many political-financial scandals, from money laundering and huge corruption scandals in Gabon and Congo, to financing French political parties (and the CDU in Germany) and financing coups and civil wars in Africa, like in Congo-Brazzaville and Chad. Ultimately, three persons from Elf’s management and 27 affiliated persons were punished with imprisonment or a fine. Still Total, is regularly accused of tax avoidance.

Also Orange Telecom and Thalesproducer and exporter of arms, tanks and aircraft worldwide — have the French state as a main shareholder, respectively 23% and 26.4%. Orange is leading in 20 African countries with 110 million clients (compared to 27 million in France), like in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Cameroon. Orange has several times been accused and sentenced for abuse of its dominant position of the market.

Some examples of French companies depending on the African market:

  • Bolloré Logistics develops port terminals, railways, roads and transports goods, like Africa’s natural resources, in 46 African countries. “Africa represents 25% of Bollore’s sales figures and 80% of its worldwide profits,” according to Survie.

From former research from Verschave and Survie, it shows that the Bolloré group “has developed networks infiltrating secret services, the judiciary and political power, in France and abroad, to facilitate the rapid expansion of the group in Africa.” In addition, business is done with “African leaders who acted against humanity,” like Charles Taylor in Liberia, Sassou-Nguesso in Congo-Brazzaville and Paul Biya in Cameroon. Moreover, labour rights are not respected.

“Through investment in media, Bolloré tries to secure its reputation. It controls both the creation of information (Associated Press), surveys (CSA), advertising (Havas Worldwide), the purchase of advertising space (Havas Media Group), and broadcasting (Direct Matin, the number 2 of the French daily press). In 2009, Bolloré prosecuted two journalists because of slander.”

  • Rougier Afrique International has 2 million hectares of forest concessions in Africa, mainly from Gabon, Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville. Wood from the plantations is exported around the world, but in the olden days, mainly to France. For example, Rougier’s wood has been used in the building of the Lyon Opéra and the French National Assemblée. In 2014, 80% of Rougier’s turnover (€158 million euros) and 65% of its profit is made in Africa.

Verschave wrote in 2002: “The leaders of Rougier have established useful relations with dictators in place, such as Omar Bongo in Gabon or Paul Biya in Cameroon.” African and European NGOs accuse Rougier of looting the equatorial forest of Central Africa, the planet’s second ecological lung. And the company has already been caught several times for illegal exports of wood. Still, “Francis Rougier, President of the Executive Board, was in the delegation of Nicolas Sarkozy during his trip to Gabon in 2007, for the preservation of the African forest.”

Increasing media pressure, accompanied by changes in local legislation, prompted Rougier to begin in 2008 a process of FSC-certification as part of its operations.

So, how much money does France make in French-speaking Africa?

Graphic: How much does France make in francophone Africa?
(x million euro) *FER = foreign exchange reserves

As everyone can see, this graphic is far from complete. It only contains the information I was able to gather for this article. However, it does provide us with some answers. It shows that:

  • The official development aid from France to Africa is at least 5% of the total French profit from francophone Africa. And compared with the total of remittances sent from France to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2009 it is no less than 0,001%.
  • The amount covers at least 3,73% of the total French GDP in 2016.

So, profits made in francophone Africa are significant to France, but probably not as vital (anymore!) that it would prevent France from stopping any further exploitation.

France to break with the old-men elites

Looking at French African politics over the last 57 years, we can conclude that France did everything to remain the benefits over the 14 African countries as the coloniser it used to be: access to African resources and markets. The French state and companies profited hugely of French African policies, and still do because of formerly obtained positions.

One can read from the story, that multinationals, together with the French and African elite, have been so powerful, that to this date they managed to profit from it. However, the last decades we see change coming up: former powers are declining, others rise (like the African Union and China) and agreements and regulations on tariffs and transparency have improved. Moreover, African civil society and especially the younger generation voice gets louder.

So, how to support the economic and democratic development of French-speaking Africa?

Instead of the increase of aid to 0.7% of the French GDP as Macron promised, we’d rather like to see French African politics to be innovated, like:

  • Stop interfering in African politics. “The immediate challenge for France is to get out of the active support of ‘gerontocracies in power’ in French-speaking Africa and reach out to the so-called anti-France generation, who reject these ‘ruling classes’ and France with it,’ says newspaper Le Monde. It is a direct advice to President Macron.

In Survie’s ‘white book,’ human rights activists, NGO managers and journalists call for “a [transparent] policy of France in Africa in service of democracy […] A real challenge to new French leaders.”

  • Offering room to manoeuvre to civil society, by stopping support to the African elites for own favours. In turn, it will lead to a more powerful voice of African civil society. These days, civil society and many young people call for sovereignty. When Macron visited Burkina Faso end of November, “protesters burnt T-shirts with images of Macron and carried slogans including ‘Down with new-colonialism’ and ‘French military out of Burkina’”, according to Reuters.

Moreover, when civil society and youth would have a fair voice in the national political debate, it may bring different African leaders. Survie’s whitebook adds: “African leaders who are controlled by Parliament and citizens with respect to the economic, social and political rights of Africans.”

  • Leading by example. Something encouraged already in 2013 by the French Senate: “France [should] take steps to ensure that French companies in the sector, particularly where the French government is a shareholder lead by example,” reads a report of Oxfam France. “In terms of transparency as well as environmental and social responsibility, demonstrating that French companies are trustworthy partners that respect the long-term interests of African countries.”
  • Performing good leadership by both France (and Europe) and African countries. It will increase the possibility to work on international agreements that work for both parties. Agreements that creates equal Europe-Africa business opportunities.

Although formal trade regulations have improved immensely over the last decades, coming to equal terms is still a power struggle between African countries and the EU. Hoebink mentions that “African states can protect themselves by adjusting their tariffs, but they don’t.” Whereas Sylla explains: “The European Commission pressures our governments to liberalize more than 75% of our imports. African social movements have been successful until now in blocking these EPAs since the mid-2000’s.”

  • Increasing fair competition. Public-private partnerships also should be of the benefit of local companies and local people. “Now African elites and large companies mainly profit from public private partnerships,” Balde experiences in his daily work [addition: in collaborations in which the French government is involved]. Hannah Tetteh, Legal Practitioner and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs & Regional Integration in Ghana, adds some more practical advises to increase fair competition.

The question remains: is Macron willing to let go French benefits?

In June this year, Macron created the Presidential Council for Africa ( Conseil Presidential pour l’Afrique or CPA) an advisory group of young diaspora entrepreneurs. Macron says, he wants to reach out to youth (entrepreneurs) and civil society. Newspapers like Le Monde and Jeune Afrique are critical. Looking at history and the mistrust it brings among youth, France is not in a position to collaborate with African youth. “Youth make up over 60–70% of the inhabitants of the continent,” Balde explains, “but French African politics never had any connection to civil society or youth before.”

Although, it’s not yet clear what the CPA will bring, it indeed seems to be a break with the old elite, at last. A first important step. However, as a neoliberal and a former investment banker, all experts believe Macron will represent the interests of French businesses once more. Let’s hope he’s reading above advices.

Special thanks to all interviewees for sharing their points of view and explanations, Seraphine Mawuenyegah in Ghana for the editing and Boubacar Sy in Mali for the French translations.

Do you have more information to fill in the gaps of ‘How much money does France make in francophone Africa?’ Please share! Below, per email to Inemarie[at] or anonymously through the chat-app Signal.

Originally published at

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