Francafrique Goes Democratique? – Analysis


By Khadija Sharife

Several years ago, Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) published an article called ‘Propping Up Africa’s Dictators’. The article unpacked the basic commonly known building blocks for France’s Françafrique policy, ‘designed to create structural dependence and domination by reasserting geostrategic control over natural resources through the use of black ‘governors.’

The system, maintained through a mutually agreed upon, but nonetheless, secretive political economy, is sustained through several political, economic and other means, structured along agreements signed with former French colonies such as Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Togo, Cameroon, Djibouti, the Central African Republic, Senegal, and newer additions.

The basic premise was two-fold: Geostrategic control through military means and preferential access to African resources i.e.:

  • Between 1997 and 2002, for example, France intervened over 34 times, 26 of which were conducted outside of the UN’s umbrella. During the past five years, French military troops in Gabon, Chad, Central African Republic, Senegal, and Cote d’Ivoire have either increased or remained the same. France’s Minister of Defense admits to 10,000 specialized soldiers active on the continent (2004-07)
  • Clauses contained within the agreements also ensured that France was legally entitled to be informed of and maintain priority access to natural resources including uranium, oil, and gas. African governments were forbidden from engaging in military, trade, and other forms of cooperation with nations regarded as a threat to their former colonial overlord. France signed these Military Cooperation Agreements with 27 African countries from 1960s onward.

In 2008, for example, France under President Sarkozy deployed French soldiers based in Gabon, the official Francafrique hub under former lifetime dictator Omar Bongo, to rescue the throne of Chad’s dictator, Idris Deby. Meanwhile, the Elf Affair – oil for cash – ‘Europe’s biggest corruption scandal’ since the Second World War, was centred in Gabon, intricately located in the Francafrique system.

‘The cause of poverty is very simple,’ said François-Xavier Verschave, former president of the French NGO Survie. ‘We have illegitimate governments which represent external interests. A number of these presidents are paid by Elf [the former French oil company later merged with TotalFina], for example. They serve Elf and France but not their own country. They get their medical treatment in France, their children study in France: they therefore don’t concern themselves with health and education at home.’

So, to what extent was France, the first to send in troops and to recognise the transitional national council (TNC), involved in the dislocation of buffoonish Libyan dictator Gaddafi?

Libya hosts Africa’s largest reserves of crude oil, generating over US$40 billion last year. In 2009, France’s state-owned company Total, was forced to accept renegotiation of oil and gas, alongside other companies.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC), extended Total’s contract (Mabruk and al-Jurf fields) to 2032, but significantly diminished, for instance, access to oil and gas production.

According to a confidential document published by WikiLeaks (dated 2009), ‘Each consortium will take 27 percent of oil production, down from the 50 percent take they had under the previous agreement. For gas, the consortium will take a 40 percent share (down from 50 percent), which will be reduced in the future to 30 percent.’[1]

The purpose, claimed the WikiLeaks memo, was the renegotiation of Total’s contract, part of, ‘the NOC’s effort to renegotiate existing contracts to increase the Libya’s share of crude oil production.’[2]

‘An interesting potential corollary is that al-Jurf is reportedly the field from which Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, periodically obtains oil lifts, which he sells to finance his various activities.’[3]

It is more than an allusion, therefore, that the French government suffered both a vast loss from the renegotiated contract, making room for other alliances (think China) to shore up global political capital. Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s son, no doubt, would have been a painful irritant with his brazen tendency for theft from an already diminished source.

Fast-forward to the current Libyan stance:

Gaddafi’s right hand man and chief of protocol, Nouri Masmari, travelled to France in mid-October (18) 2010, (allegedly) seeking medical assistance for his chronic illness. Masmari has long been considered the ‘keeper’ of Gaddafi’s secret, privy to all confidential information (and in charge of everything including catering for Gaddafi’s home).

Described by insider Maghreb Intelligence as, ‘joined at the hip with Libya’s leader’, Masmari was later spotted in French restaurants on the Champs Elysee with Libyan associates – allegedly including Fathi Boukrhis, Ounes Mansouri and Charrant Faraj – the key figures who would lead the revolution. The publication stated, ‘Mesmari sticks closely to his boss’s side so there’s some talk that he may have broken his long-standing tie with the Libyan leader.’[4]

Though initially – and allegedly, travelling for medical reasons, Masmari would soon apply for political asylum[5] in France while Gaddafi hastened to issue an arrest warrant. He would eventually be arrested on November 28 but was released in mid-December after an appeals court found the arrest to be ‘an irregularity’. Ironically, the French officials who arrested Masmari kept him under protective custody at the hotel of his choice.

Italian journalist Franco Bechis[6] reported that while in France Masmari and associates received visits from French intelligence officials close to Sarkozy (some meetings allegedly witnessed between French secret service and Masmari occurred at the Concorde Lafayette hotel). Simultaneously, companies like Glencore and Cargill, facilitated by a French delegation, were reported to have begun inquiring about post-Gaddafi access to Libyan resources.

On December 23, Maghreb Confidential would report that he was preparing for a return to Tripoli; and that Masmari allegedly resumed his position as Gaddafi’s right hand.

On Sunday, February 20, the day the rebels drew force against Gaddafi, Masmari resigned. French newspaper liberation quoted Masmari (two days later) as standing in favour of the rebels,[7] cautioning ‘they can take revenge against my family, but in the end my family is not better than the Libyans who died for freedom. They will also be on their list of martyrs.’[8] (Masmari’s daughters were later kidnapped.) Masmari’s position was taken up by Fawzi Omar Swei, friend of Saif al-Gaddafi.[9]

Was Masmari working in alliance with the French?

According to the BBC, after meetings in Paris with Western and African representatives, France was the first to fire shots in Libya, destroying its target.[10] In addition to reconnaissance over, ‘all Libyan territory’ – to save, in Sarkozy’s words, Libyans from the ‘murderous madness’ of Gaddafi – French jets ‘destroyed a number of tanks and armoured vehicles’, a defence ministry official told Reuters, adding that he could not immediately confirm the number.’[11]

The US and UK supported the military effort considered an invasion, at the time, by the African Union, which proposed a peaceful measure that was dismissed by the UN Security Council (UNSC). Italy – state-owners of ENI – ‘offered the use of seven of its military bases which already house US, Nato and Italian forces.’[12]

Now that Gaddafi has been removed, and oil and gas exploitation restarted, the Transitional National Council (TNC) – recognised immediately by France, and thereafter Western nations led by the US, has stated, ‘We don’t have a problem with Western countries like the Italians, French and UK companies. But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil,’ (Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager at Libyan rebel oil firm AGOCO).[13]

This neatly undercuts emerging governments that had benefitted from Gaddafi’s renegotiation of oil and gas contracts, example China, with 75 companies, 36,000 workers and 50 ongoing projects, in Libya. Similarly Russia’s Gazprom and Brazils’ Petrobas may be sidelined. Like China, Russia – a dissenting member of the UNSC, officially stated, as quoted by BBC, that they regretted the decision ‘by Western powers to take military action’[14].

Prior – under the old renegotiated contract, (2010[15]) Italy (28 per cent) and France (15 per cent) received the lion share of oil exports. The US and UK, old foes of the Gaddafi regime, received just 3 per cent and 4 per cent with China acquiring 11 per cent. This is set to drastically change. France’s Total was the first major entity to restart oil production. New contracts are being negotiated with an entirely new set of Libyan figures – allegedly, those architects who owe France at least a significant loyalty for their role in the uprising, and later, instant legitimisation of the regime.

Reuters saw a letter between the NTC and French officials (Sarkozy) guaranteeing 35 per cent of oil to France in exchange for immediate access to Libyan funds (over 7.6 billion euros), siphoned offshore to French banks[15]. The NTC denied the existence of it, with Mahmoud Shamam claiming such was ‘false’. Shamam and interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril were both mentioned in the letter.

Sarkozy claimed to the media, ‘In Libya, the civilian population, which is demanding nothing more than the right to choose their own destiny, is in mortal danger…It is our duty to respond to their anguished appeal.’

Francafrique goes democratique or just business-as-usual?

Khadija Sharife is southern Africa correspondent for The Africa Report, a contributing researcher for the Tax Justice Network and visiting scholar at the UKZN Center for Civil Society.

[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[10] ][11] Ibid
[12] Ibid

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