Saturday, September 7, 2013

Francafrique on Al Jazeera

Following on the last post about the corruption scandal in Guinea, a recently-broadcast 3-part Al Jazeera documentary is especially well-timed (now that Al Jazeera America has launched and subsequently Al Jazeera's website has been blocked in the US, I may be just teasing Moved 2 Monrovia's American readers). This excellent three-part exposé, The France-Africa Connection, can be accessed online in three 45-minute episodes on the Al Jazeera website.

While reading up the topic will give interested viewers more depth into the long, sordid, shocking relationship between France and its colonies, documentary programming like this are electrifying for their vintage footage, however fleeting. Anyone interested in African history can only dream of having hours to look through all these archive news reels. 

In this respect, Episode Two is especially riveting, concentrating on the shocking "Elf Affair," which revealed how metropolitan French politics were infused with dirty money from oil exploitation from Francophone Africa, especially Gabon. Included here are brief glimpses of rare footage of Brazzaville, pockmarked by gunfire in the wake of the Nguesso-Lissouba conflict. 

Legendary prosecutor Eva Jolly also makes an appearance at the end, calmly recounting her life-risking exposure of the Elf scandal. 

All three episodes reference astonishing chapters in this complex, often ugly history, such as the mention in Episode 1 of the now openly-admitted poisoning of Cameroonian opposition candidate Félix Roland Moumié, and the counterfitting of the Guinean currency to destablise the regime of its democratically elected leader, as well as some disturbing retelling of the Biafran crisis, where France tried to undermine British power in the Gulf of Guinea.  
Across the entire broadcast, the grey-haired, liver-spocked old men, sitting in their gilded salons in Paris, could not be more frank in admitting to and confirming the malfeasance and shenangians that went on for decades in French West and Equatorial Africa, from Conakry to the Congo. 
One of the more compelling interviews is Jean Pierre Cot, who, as a young public servant was named Minister of Cooperation in the early days of the Mitterand cabinet. Having never been to Africa, much less positioned within the corruption networks, Cot's year in office was a rare, brief moment of reform, retold in his own words from 30-year old footage as a baby-faced Cot steps off an Air Afrique jet to visit a village, and speaks of a new era of fairness and partnership that never came.
The third episode is especially fascinating. In post-cold war era, as realpolitik pros age and die and new powers, especially China, arrive on the continent, and the traditions of feality to Paris slacken. The bonds with metropolitan France aren't exactly broken, but in some cases are reversed

Gabonese President Ali Bongo's endless suitcases of cash, stashed in corners of Crillion Hotel suites, not so much lubricated French party politics, but became one of the post important power nodes in the entire country, hand selecting freshman ministers across the political spectrum. Rather than simply being an industrial-commodity exploitation, now cash was the main extraction flowing out of Africa with the Presidents-for-life playing their former colonial masters.

Just as this bizarre arrangement reached its sprawling, viscous apex, its main underwriters, the founding father of Cote D'Ivoire and Françafrique itself, Hophouët-Biogny, passed away. The other pillar of Françafrique, Ali Bongo, died in 2009, succeeded by his son. 

This last episode includes several pristine panoramas of the Basilica in Yamoussoukro... 
...but more memorably features some shocking footage of the night-time bombing of Gbagbo loyalists on bridges Abidjan, and hundreds scattering and falling as French forces fire on protesters outside the Hotel Ivoire. 

Rather than being the final unravelling of Françafrique, the arrangement seems to live on in a post-classic form, as French intervened in the Gbagbgo-era Ivorian crisis, and its commercial tentacles still firmly grip the economic levers of West and Central Africa in the Sarkozy era, when ministers who spoke ill of Françafrique found themselves suddenly without portfolio.  While Hollande has declared a new era, French companies still operate ports and mines from Cote D'Ivoire to Congo. 

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