Home » French empire is collapsing and the African spring is finally here (1)

French empire is collapsing and the African spring is finally here (1)

by Daudu John

French empire is collapsing and the African spring is finally here (1)


One of the remarkable events I witnessed in my stint in the Foreign Service was the collapse of the Russia-led Soviet order in Europe.

A week after I assumed duties in September 1987 at the Nigerian Embassy in Bonn which was then the capital of the former West Germany I was literally thrown into the deeper end. The city of Bonn, a quaint, mid-sized city by the River Rhine was agog with the expected visit to West Germany of Erich Honecker the leader of the East German Communist party and de facto leader of East Germany.

Since the partitioning of Germany into East and West at the end of the Second World War, there had been no formal exchange of visits between them. The visit of the East German leader therefore, the first of its kind was something to look forward to. Apart from the West German government, every other Embassy in the West German capital was keenly interested in the visit.

I was assigned to monitor the media coverage of the event and make reports of the highlights.

After the visit, I remember discussing with a veteran German journalist, Achim Remde of the German Press Agency (Deutsche Presse Agentur, DPA) whether Honecker’s visit could lead eventually to German reunification.

Like most Germans of the time this was always an emotional question and I could see the colour drain from his face as he looked deeply at me. After a long time, he said “Germany can only be united once the Soviet Union collapses.”

Fast forward a year later after my transfer to the United Kingdom from West Germany, as the seething discontent in the Soviet sphere was coming full circle and the ramparts of the Empire were collapsing I recalled my fortuitous conversation the previous year with Achim Remde in Bonn. And indeed as he had predicted, as the Soviet order was crumbling the two Germanys were heading towards reunification.

Years after I witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Empire from my foreign service outpost, my abiding takeaway about that epochal event was in the popular saying ‘’No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”.

For very few at the time would have entertained the thought that the Soviet Union with all its much vaunted security superstructure could collapse rapidly like a pack of cards by the valiant actions of young demonstrators and activists.

A similar scenario is taking place in the Franco sphere in Africa. As I watch the events unfolding in the Sahel region of Africa and the latest happenings in Niger following the coup of July 26, I could not but have a sense of déjà vu about the uncanny similarities between what happened during the events leading to the collapse of the Soviet order and what is happening now as the French order in Africa is convulsing.

Barring any last minute capitulation from the military junta in Niger to the demands for them to step down and restore President Mohammed Bazoum which it overthrew (which seems unlikely under the circumstances) it is certain that ECOWAS forces led by Nigeria will intervene in the country.

Two issues can be discerned from this scenario.

The first is that following Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and the Central African Republic, the Niger coup is the sixth such change of government that had taken place within the Franco sphere that France, the former colonial power of these countries, could neither influence the course of events before and after the fact. Indeed in some of the countries like Mali and Burkina Faso, the coupists have taken drastic steps to totally decouple their countries from French influence.

Two, in an area it used to have a firm handle on events, France has not only been left with few options in playing the decisive role, it has had to watch rather dejectedly from the side-lines while other significant players move into the void.

In the instant case of Niger, this much has come to the fore.

When the coup happened in Niger, the French Embassy was one of the first to be targeted by the demonstrators who were waving Russian flags.

Secondly, despite the presence of French troops in Niger with a compliment of the French Foreign Legion, it is the Russian Wagner group that the people and military government of Niger have turned to for defence purposes.

To compound the problem for the French, their western ally the United States of America seems not to be playing the same script as the French in the Niger conundrum.

The French are aghast that in the midst of all the uncertainties in Niger the Americans have decided to go it alone without coordinating with them.

They dispatched Victoria Nuland, their trouble shooting envoy, to discuss with the junta on protecting American interests in Niger. The Americans apparently do not want to pull out French chestnuts in the Niger debacle.

But by far the most telling evidence of France’s continuing regression in Franco-African affairs is the fact that France is relying on Nigeria-led ECOWAS to do the heavy lifting in Niger.

Wonder of wonders and Irony of ironies. Was it not France that tried unsuccessfully to sabotage Nigeria’s ECOMOG intervention in Liberia and Sierra Leone through its proxy Ivory Coast? Can we ever forget that France had played and continues to play negative roles against Nigeria including supporting the dismemberment of Nigeria during the civil war?

Looking at all these developments I can hazard that the French Quai D’Orsay must be in a frenzied state trying to fathom what options can be pursued to save the Franco sphere in Africa.

But as the French dominoes in Africa are falling, a look at the tea leaves indicate that regardless of how the Niger issue eventually pans out, France is not likely to come out tops.

Indeed what can be conclusively said is that the genie of African renaissance that will sweep away the unequal relationship between not just France and its African sphere but the world in general is morphing in the African Sahel. (To be continued)



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