Why the former colonies of France in Africa must demand an apology
Tunisian President Kais Saied’s visit to France last week was intended to discuss bilateral relations, trade, etc. But it was also a missed opportunity, where Tunisia could have officially demanded an apology for the decades of French colonialism, which shattered the social and the social. the political fabric of this Arab nation in North Africa from the end of the 19th century until independence in 1956 and even beyond.
A heated debate in the Tunisian Parliament before Saied’s trip stressed the importance of the issue for Tunisians, who are still in shock from socio-economic and political transitions after the popular uprising in 2011. Unfortunately, the Parliament rejected a motion presented by the centrist Al-Karama coalition calling for a French apology, despite 15 hours of debate.
“We have no bitterness or hatred, but such excuses will heal the wounds of the past,” said Seifeddine Makhlouf, head of Al-Karama, during the debate. Makhlouf has no moral obligation to explain his reasons. French excuses for Tunisia – and many other African countries that have endured years of French colonialism – are long overdue.
Ravaged by an unrelenting economic crisis and still largely dependent on France as its first trading partner, Tunisia fears the consequences of such a just demand, which, if formally formulated, would also include a call for compensation following nearly 75 years of exploitation and the collective trauma suffered by several generations.
A special statement made by Osama Khelifi, of the Qalb Tounes party, describes the sad reality that continues to govern the thinking of Tunisian political elites. “We are not going to feed Tunisians with such motions,” he said. Regardless of Khelifi, and others among the parties who rejected the motion, reconciling with the past is a prerequisite for any nation wishing to start from scratch. What would be the use of revolutions and revolutionary speeches if Tunisian politicians insisted on the simple fact of getting along with a status quo imposed by external forces?
While Saied paid his diplomatic fees in Paris, statues collapsed across the Western world; some of the former slave owners, others of racist ideologists and the pioneers of colonialism. On June 7, a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, was shot dead by protesters in the English city of Bristol. It was just one of many monuments destroyed or degraded in the United States and Europe.
However, across the English Channel, the French government remained obstinate in its refusal to demolish similar statues, as if it insisted on its refusal to revisit – and even less to take responsibility for – its grim past, in particular the bloody and tragic events that shattered the African continent.
Statues are erected to honor individuals for their great contributions. They are also an inspiration to future generations that they should try to imitate these presumably tall individuals. France remains the exception, however.
Unsurprisingly, French government officials engage in absurd arguments as to why statues, such as that of Jean-Baptiste Colbert – a white aristocrat who, during the reign of King Louis XIV in the 17th century, established the horrible “Black Code” rules, according to which black slaves in the colonies were to be treated – should remain intact. Macron himself made it clear that “the Republic … will not remove any statue”.
The collective thinking underway in various Western countries, which has greatly benefited from their historic exploitation of Africa, was sparked by the brutal murder of George Floyd last month at the hands of American police in Minneapolis. Spontaneous popular movements, led mainly by young people, have linked racism, slavery and colonialism. They took to the streets by the millions to demand change. Yet French political elites continue to adopt French exceptionalism, claiming that, unlike the American experience of race and slavery, French law has never, at any time in the past, been willfully racist.
In truth, past arrogance – its “civilizing mission” – continues to define France’s attitudes towards the present. This is why the French colonial experience was particularly keen to compose an intelligent speech to account for its exploitation of Africa and other regions of the world. In this biased logic, the invasion of Algeria by France in 1830 was entirely doubled. Algeria was “an integral part” of French territory, they argued. Other countries, such as Tunisia and Morocco, have become protectorates indirectly led by corrupt local authorities. The rest of France’s African colonies were mercilessly ravaged by greedy French administrators.
Unlike other European experiences, the French colonial connection to Africa did not completely disintegrate in the 20th century. Instead, it took different forms, now known as the denigrating term of “Francafrique”. This expression was introduced in 1955 to describe the “special relations” between France and the newly independent African countries, which have become linked by what France has called “cooperation agreements”. It was understood that France was entering a new phase of colonialism in Africa: neocolonialism.
Despite former French President François Hollande who pledged to eradicate Francafrique and its practical significance, little has changed. Indeed, France finds itself in all aspects of life, whether political, military, economic or even cultural, in many African countries. In the case of Mali and Libya, the French intervention has an even more crude manifestation: domineering and violent.
Reconciling with the past is a prerequisite for any nation wishing to start again.
To appreciate French neocolonialism in Africa, consider this: fourteen African countries are still economically linked to France through the use of a special currency, the CFA franc, which was designed by Paris to manage trade and the economy. of its former colonies. This discordant example of French neocolonialism in Africa is consistent with its colonial and racist past.
Whether France chooses to reconcile with its past is entirely a French affair. It is, however, incumbent on Tunisia – and all of Africa – to confront France and the other colonial and neocolonial regimes, not only by asking for excuses and compensation, but also by insisting on a complete change in current unequal relations.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and publisher of the Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is “The Last Land: A Palestinian History” (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a doctorate. in Palestine is studying at the University of Exeter. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud
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