Ahh it took me a while to get back to this but let’s finish that conversation about French influence in their former colonies. To recap, Francophone colonies are not doing well, have not been for a while. Not that most of Africa is, but in particular these countries are beholden to French control still even though they have their independence on paper. In part 1 of this discussion we went into how it all began and the economic control part of this equation. Now let’s talk about the cultural and military control that the French lorde over their former colonies.
The former French colonies are also obligated to use French as their official language of their countries and the language of education. This is controlled through an organization called the “Francophone” with several satellites and their affiliates, and is supervised directly by the French minister of foreign affairs. My friend from Cameroon does not know his native tongue, only French. African people are pressured to speak French instead of their own languages which is extremely limiting in a lot of ways. Additionally Cameroon is now at war with itself to preserve their Frenchness and it blows my mind just how deep the French culture influence actually runs.
In addition, my first exposure to the impact of French colonialism was in undergrad in a social sciences class. We were reading a text called Black Skin, White Masks, a seminal work in anti-colonialism and anti-racist writing from 1952, written by one Frantz Fanon. Frantz Fanon drew on his experience as a black French man to speak to the psychology of the racism and dehumanization inherent in situations of colonial domination. One of the gifts of colonization is that, people from French colonies are allowed to become French citizens. Frantz Fanon alludes to how this is toxic mentally and emotionally as it has trapped Francophone residents in an inferiority complex and second class citizenry with respect to the French. This is where some of the identity politics from this world cup comes from.
Wonder how it’s possible that they have kept this going for so long? Well there is also a military control aspect of this story.
France imposed several things on the colonies to control them militarily. France has an exclusive right to supply military equipment and training to African military officers. In addition it also has a legal right to intervene militarily in the African countries and deploy its troops permanently on their military bases. The combination of these two clauses means France has military resources ready to go to protect French interests which over the years has meant leaders in Francophone countries who are out of line. France repeatedly used many ex foreign legionnaires to carry out coups against elected presidents in Africa. In the last 50 years, a total of 67 coups has occurred in 26 African countries, of which 16 are ex-French colonies. The French basically has trained and nourished hundreds of traitors who are activated when France needs them to commit another coup d’état or create a disturbing political situation inside Africa to keep their hold on these countries, not to mention funding the never ending civil wars in Chad and CAR.
My French friend insists that France is sorry for their colonial past but if they really are, will Macron walk back on all these policies? Unlike any other French leader in the past, the relatively new President Macron has openly expressed remorse for aspects of France’s colonial past with an election rhetoric that suggested that he viewed France’s neo-colonial dominance with some embarrassment, preferring to loosen France’s hold on its former colonies.
Lastly, here is my commentary on the identity politics of the french team!
For the record I am definitely one of the people who celebrated them as African. Africans do not exist in France and Belgium by coincidence as you can tell from these two pieces on the impact of French colonialism in Africa. People love asking me how I got to where I am, and are horrified to hear most of my migration is not a choice. Americans especially can be so tone deaf to this. Most of us don’t choose to leave our homes, circumstances force us to. With the french black people as you can tell, it is a much deeper story.
But you know what gives me life, how we still carry our African heritage with us nomatter where we go. One of my favorite things is when I am at the train station in Brussels and just watching all the Africans walk by, in their traditional wear, casually. I do it with my statement African necklaces that I wear to the office all the time. Most people regard me as American, but I know who I am. The black members of the French team are also some of the most expressive Africans ever! If you follow the on social media you will be regaled with videos of them getting down to Congolese music and just being African AF. We can argue all we want, but none of us can pick their identity for them, they tell us every day!
They are however also French. It’s their home and country. The only upsetting thing about this part of their identity is what I wrote about in my piece, Football world cup mood: “I’m rooting for everybody black!”, that it’s conditional. The thing for me though remains that blackness and Africanness is something that will always be a part of them and all of us immigrants trying to thrive outside of the continent. You can always come home to the bosom of mama Africa’s identity.
Most of all, I celebrate the french team because I am here for all of this black excellence. It is so damn real, to thrive under the pressure and scrutiny of the world, and to carry your people’s chance at something. To survive and thrive in white spaces, or spaces that people who look like you have never been allowed into requires incredible mental fortitude. But that’s a topic for another day.
Salut and felicitations to the French team! You did all of us proud!
Read more about this all of this here.