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.

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:

1) Monetary control through a shared currency: the CFA-franc. It came 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Read more on the CFA-franc: Dear President Macron, it’s time to let go your outdated African policies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.

2) Military presence at strategic locations, like “in Gabon for oil,” gives Hoebink as an example. Eight francophone countries signed military agreements (accords de défense) or technical military cooperation agreements with France, right after independence.

According to the French Senate, the accords involved:

“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.

3) 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 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.” (Akinyinka Akinyoade, one of the writers of the book Entrepreneurship in Africa)

In addition, it means that 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.

4) 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 Francophonie. 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.

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 African policies

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.

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).

What’s next with Macron?

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?

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