One of the consequences of the “divide and rule” instrument of colonialism has been the divide perpetuated by western media on what information Africans receive or have access to about “other” regions of the continent. To put it bluntly, Anglophone Africa has limited access to knowledge about what is happening in Francophone Africa and vice versa. As a result of this regrettable postcolonial condition, many questions have arisen in Anglophone Africa as to what is really going on in Burkina Faso, Mali, or Senegal today. The short answer to these questions is that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of France-Africa, but the western media will not let you know it.
There is absolutely no need to linger on the fact that on the continent we get our information from the English and French language news providers, including the BBC, The Guardian, CNN, Reuters, Le Monde Afrique, RFI, France 24, TV5 Monde, or Aljazeera. This situation recognizably stems from the way language, namely French and English, has been used by the former British and French empires to create and perpetuate a division between Anglophone and Francophone Africans with regard to the information they receive about their own situations. Most of the time, those news outlets are unreliable for various reasons, the two main reasons being their lack of understanding of the sociopolitical and cultural context, and their demonstrated partiality and lack of research integrity. As a result, many of us researchers, scholars, journalists, writers, or ordinary observers of world news, try very hard to seek information from Africa-based independent news and media. However, separating the wheat from the chaff is an exhausting and time-consuming activity that can only happen when the subsistence of our families does not require us to spend all our time earning the daily bread and butter. To make matters worse, even those of us who are lucky enough to read English and French news are cursed by our inability to transmit that information to our sisters and brothers in the other language spectrum of the continent.
Suffice it to say, it is not surprising that Anglophone Africans are puzzled to see Malians, Senegalese, and Bukinabè physically attacking French-owned companies, French-owned infrastructure, French embassies, French Institutes, and, in some instances, asking the French ambassadors and French military deployments in their countries to pack up and leave, as was the case a few months ago in Mali. In the most recent case of Burkina Faso, a military coup led by Ibrahim Traoré a couple of days ago has pushed the transitional government of Paul-Henri Damiba to resign and leave with the French army protecting him. Remarkably, the western media did not address the elephant in the room: How come the French, sixty years of independence later, are still there serving as personal protection to the Burkinabè president? The answer is: Well, they have never really left.
The CFA is still the currency in use across former French colonies; Total is still the primary supplier of car fuel; Orange is still the primary telecommunications company servicing phone and internet but also money transfer through Orange Money; Auchan and Casino are still the primary groceries providers; Candia Grand Lait is still the number one milk sold to the population; the Suez Group is still servicing water and providing water supply infrastructure; Eiffage is still building and maintaining highway and railroad infrastructure in addition to funding and organizing cultural events such as the famous Dakar Art biennale, or coordinating the recent “African Art” Restitution project; Alstom is still selling trains to Africa, sometimes even in capitals where there are no train stations yet; Air-France is still the principal airline servicing Francophone Africans travelling overseas despite the near-impossibility of receiving the French visa; and so on and so forth. In addition to the French-owned companies servicing African nationals on the continent, there are also all those French-owned companies extracting and refining raw materials such as uranium and cacao for French needs and French exports greatly contributing to France’s annual GDP. This shocking reality would provoke an uprising at the continental level if it was reported to explain the plight of Africans living in former French colonies. Perhaps it is for that very reason that the western media barely, if at all, mentions it.
The western media neither mentions that in exchange for the favourable business terrain for French-owned companies to “occupy” the space, France has promised security. Before French troops left Mali, there were over 5000 French soldiers in Mali and the surrounding countries. This was out of the over 8000 French soldiers deployed on the entire continent. However, despite the fact that many French troops have been deployed in Francophone Africa in the past three decades, terrorism and internal displacements due to political and economic crises have exponentially increased. In other words, France has not only been unable to deliver on its end of the unfair bargain but the presence of its troops seems to have worsened the security problem. Pointing to this fact, the Malian transitional government has recently requested a hearing at the United Nations Security Council to investigate France’s potential material and intelligence support for terrorist groups in Mali.
To counter these accusations, France has been quick at accusing Malians and now Burkinabè of political instrumentalization while denouncing Russia’s imperialism which is supposedly evidenced by Russian paramilitary support of the transitional governments that have taken over state management of Mali and Burkina Faso. As should be expected, French accusations were amplified by the western media although they do not stand up to close scrutiny. The fact of the matter is that Russia did not set any boots in Africa without an invitation from the relevant African authorities. The French, on the contrary, “invited” themselves four centuries ago. They participated in the Slave Trade which forced over 400 million African men and women into the four corners of the globe. They committed the most hideous crimes during colonialism and have been complicit in many other crimes which have taken place and continue to take place in former French colonies. Russia, on the other hand, has been invited by African leaders to help Africans solve the issues the French have promised to solve but have not been able to. And no matter what the future will tell us about the efficacy of this new leadership, today the masses in Francophone Africa are fed up with France’s political, economic and military occupation of their countries. This is no longer some gentleman-like conversation at the United Nations between the African elite and their former masters who have never really left, and who are still the landlords on conquered ground, whereas the African elite remain the tenants in their own countries. This is the key reason behind the popular uprising by Africans, including mothers who can no longer watch passively their sons and daughters deprived of the right to food, water, education, healthcare, clean environment, and jobs – a future which international institutions such as the United Nations (where France is a permanent member of its Security Council) had promised to help deliver.
African leaders can no longer be held responsible for the chaos created by an occupying power while the occupying power remains and relies on western media to shift the blame on Africans for its wrongdoings. It is only after France leaves and gives up on its tight grip on the economies of their countries that Burkinabè, Malians, and people in former French colonies can start rebuilding their own future, using their own means, their ingenuity and creativity, their knowledge transmission systems, their own languages.
In this regard, language must be used as a unifying rather than a dividing tool for the continent, as this would help us minimize the negative influence of western media. Indeed, the issue of African languages being non-existent in transnational communication – except to a certain extent Swahili – has exacerbated the divide between Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone Africa, and delayed the emergence of a united front to defend our shared interests. Yet, it is only when African languages ultimately become the primary languages of the African public space that Pan Africanism and continent-wide sustainable development will be achievable. No matter how painful this process of linguistic decolonization is going to be, it remains the only possible pathway to Africa’s self-determination, and economic, political, and cultural progress.
In this process of decolonization, it is also paramount that international institutions, namely the United Nations, recognize and finally admit that there is no global sustainable development as long as the African continent, comprising 54 countries, is denied permanent seats at the United Nations’ Security Council while its concerns, which are expressed through the United Nations’ General Assembly, are brushed aside along with those of the global south.