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Workers Vanguard No. 1046

16 May 2014

French Troops Out of Central African Republic!

Fifty Interventions in Fifty Years of African Independence

Since December, the French military has been openly involved in a civil war raging in the Central African Republic that has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and uprooted hundreds of thousands from their homes. Behind this sordid communally-based conflict between Muslim militias (the Seleka) and their Christian counterparts (the “anti-balakas”) are cynical maneuvers by French imperialism to further its neocolonial aims. After a falling out between Paris and François Bozizé—the Christian president whom France had put in place in 2003—the French imperialists gave a green light to the Seleka rebellion to overthrow him. When the regime was later toppled, the leader of the Seleka, Michel Djotodia, became the country’s first Muslim head of state, and the anti-balakas were formed in opposition.

Here is a classic illustration of Françafrique, a term that has come to signify the neocolonial system by which France controls its former sub-Saharan colonies. While France granted them formal independence in the early 1960s, it has kept these countries in a de facto dependency through both official and unofficial means. Most are simply ruled by France via puppet presidents, with the French government always having a local opposition at hand to ensure that its lackey in office toes the line.

France currently has eleven military bases and some 10,000 troops in its African neocolonies, which are forbidden to conclude military alliances with any other country unless France permits it. Paris has the first right to buy the natural resources found in its ex-colonies, and French companies must be given priority for government contracts. Economic subordination is further enforced by the fact that these countries share a common currency, the CFA franc, which was pegged to the French franc (and now to the euro), and most of their cash reserves must be deposited in the French national bank.

This neocolonial system was widely denounced after the role of France in the Rwanda genocide of 1994 came to light. While repeatedly denying that Françafrique still exists, all French governments have continued its practice, albeit in a more covert manner.

The following article is translated from Le Bolchévik No. 207 (March 2014), newspaper of the Ligue Trotskyste de France, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

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FEBRUARY 14—After less than two years in office, the Socialist Party-Green Party government of President François Hollande already has an impressive record as a neocolonialist. Hollande had made his intentions clear at his inauguration in 2012 when he paid special homage to Jules Ferry, one of the main architects of French colonialism as France carved out its colonial empire at the end of the 19th century. In early 2013, Hollande sent thousands of French troops to Mali—for the first time since that country’s independence—to set up a puppet regime headed by Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Then, in the Central African Republic (CAR), he dumped a puppet president, François Bozizé, who had been put in place by French imperialism ten years earlier. Subsequently, last December Hollande deployed 1,600 troops to Bangui, the country’s capital, before finally replacing the newly installed president Michel Djotodia with another pawn, Catherine Samba-Panza.

All the while, Hollande was proclaiming more loudly than ever that the days of French interference in Africa are “a thing of the past.” The interventions follow a well-established script: French imperialism, with the leaders of the region’s vassal states securely on its side, gets a resolution passed in the UN Security Council, launches its dogs of war from pre-existing bases on the African continent and then (sometimes) “hands over” control to an African force.

Hollande made sure that the usual French practices in its neocolonial African backyard, commonly referred to as Françafrique, were properly packaged for public consumption. Each time he launched a military operation, it just happened to be welcomed if not requested by part of the local population—the black people in southern Mali, the Christians in the Central African Republic—so as to make the French legionnaires appear as their saviors. In the case of the Central African Republic, the official reason was to put an end to the bloody religious clashes that had dramatically mounted throughout 2013.

The rebel militias of the Seleka (which means “alliance” in the Sango language) are a heterogeneous conglomerate of Bozizé’s opponents, who are mainly Muslim. After the Seleka took Bangui in March 2013, violence and plunder against the Christian population and former soldiers increased considerably. The Christians then organized into poorly equipped militias known as “anti-balakas” [“anti-machetes” in Sango]. After a failed coup attempt by these anti-balakas in early December, presumably launched in anticipation of the French intervention, violent reprisals against Christians escalated. With the proliferation of militias in Bangui, the conflict spread and several thousand civilians were massacred. The situation worsened following Djotodia’s ouster.

The French troops of the current military “Operation Sangaris” in the Central African Republic are accused of taking sides in these religious conflicts, which were greatly exacerbated by French colonialism. That is because the French have mainly disarmed the former Seleka militias, leaving the Muslim population defenseless. Meanwhile, the children of refugees who fled terror carried out by a pro-French regime in Chad between 1975 and 1979—called “Chadians” although many have never set foot in that country—are increasingly fleeing to the north [toward Chad and other countries]. Thus, the situation looks increasingly like large-scale religious and ethnic cleansing.

The imperialist operation that Hollande, Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian and Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius thought could be conducted smoothly in a few days time has encountered some setbacks, with two French soldiers killed during the first four days. Moreover, Hollande was rebuked by his European partners, who in practice refused to help out the French bourgeoisie by reaching into their pockets or supplying troops.

French Imperialism and Its Former African Empire

The real reasons for the French intervention have nothing to do with humanitarian concern and everything to do with the brutal reassertion of French imperialist rule over its ex-colonies, which have been getting out of line lately. François Bozizé, the president who was thrown out in March 2013, was a source of concern for the French. He had signed some defense agreements with South Africa that undermined French hegemony over the CAR. Those agreements, which have been kept secret, were concluded in 2007 for a duration of five years, and were then renewed in 2012. According to an 8 January 2013 report by the IRIN press agency associated with the UN, “That agreement is providing CAR’s army with an array of military training, from infantry, artillery and special forces training to logistics and driving courses, as well as ‘refurbishment’ of military infrastructure in Bouar and Bangui.”

Noting that this arrangement constituted an implicit confrontation with France, IRIN summarized the analysis of David Zounmenou of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (January 2013):

“It was France’s recent move to boost its troops in CAR from 250 to 600 that may have provoked South Africa’s increase in its own military presence....

“It can been [sic] viewed as ‘a new battlefield between France and South Africa.’

“South Africa, the continent’s powerhouse, has championed the AU’s [African Union’s] mantra of ‘African solutions to African problems’.”

That explains why the French military in Bangui was so unconcerned when the rebels of the Seleka, upon taking power in March 2013, killed 13 soldiers from the South African contingent, which then withdrew from the country.

Imperialism’s Anti-Communist Hostility to China in Africa

To understand France’s maneuvers, they must be seen in a broader context. U.S. imperialism is trying to wind up its disastrous adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to focus instead on the “pivot” to China, the most powerful remaining deformed workers state. This gives French imperialism an opportunity to attempt to restore its supremacy on its former colonial African turf. As such, France is seeking to limit Chinese penetration and to become a subcontractor in the global “war on terror.”

In its former colonies, French imperialism runs up against China even more than South Africa. The exploration license for the Boromata oilfield in the northeast of the CAR was awarded to the American oil company Grynberg RSM [in December 2000]. This company, invoking the unrest caused by rebel attacks, did no exploration and their permit expired in 2004. The granting of the license to China sealed the fate of Bozizé, all the more so since the Central African subsoil is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium. These resources also risked falling into the hands of the Chinese. So Bozizé had to go.

And that’s not all. In 2009, for example, China concluded an agreement to provide economic and technical assistance to the Central African Republic. It included a 7.8 billion CFA francs [about $16 million] grant, in particular for the construction of schools.

In a recent report submitted to the Minister of the Economy and Finance in preparation for the December 2013 Africa Summit at the Elysée [French Presidential] Palace, Hubert Védrine, chief adviser of former president François Mitterrand and Minister of Foreign Affairs under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, clearly pointed to China as being the main cause of the decline in French trade with Africa:

“Between 2000 and 2011, France’s share of the market in sub-Saharan Africa declined from 10.1 percent to 4.7 percent.... It is above all China that has established itself in the past two decades as the main economic partner of the African continent. China’s share of the African market went from less than 2 percent in 1990 to more than 16 percent in 2011.”

It is, indeed, difficult to compete with China. As we commented in an earlier article (“Hue and Cry over China’s Role in Africa,” Le Bolchévik No. 198, December 2011 [reprinted from WV No. 987, 30 September 2011]), Chinese contracts in Africa are attractive because investments by the Chinese state “are driven not by the profit motive but by the need for raw materials for its collectivized industries at home.” That is why the impact of Chinese investments—in hospitals, schools and other infrastructure—contrasts sharply with the plunder of capitalist colonialism.

China remains a workers state, despite the development and ongoing consolidation of a capitalist class within China itself. In Africa as well, there is a growing layer of private Chinese entrepreneurs profiting from big state contracts. Carried out by a peasant-guerrilla army led by Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the 1949 Revolution established a workers state that was bureaucratically deformed from its inception. Unlike in Russia following the October 1917 proletarian revolution, China never had a regime of soviet democracy. Sooner or later, the Stalinist program of the nationalist bureaucracy in power in Beijing will bring China to the brink, posing pointblank the alternatives: either capitalist counterrevolution or a proletarian political revolution that replaces the CCP regime with a regime of workers democracy committed to the struggle for world socialism.

We stand for the unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and internal counterrevolution. We support China’s right to trade in order to procure what it needs to further its development. At the same time, as we wrote in our previously cited article on China in Africa: “We recognize, however, that China’s investment and aid programs are determined not by proletarian internationalism but by the CCP bureaucracy’s narrow nationalist interests.” And we denounce the support by the Chinese regime to bourgeois African dictators—and to the imperialists. For example, China voted in the UN Security Council in favor of the resolution authorizing the French intervention in the Central African Republic.

Colonialism Paved the Way for Today’s Massacres

Throughout the colonial period, since the sole interest of the imperialists was to exploit this vast country, the only major communication routes that they built were two roads linking the Central African Republic to the Atlantic Ocean: from Bangui to Pointe-Noire [in the Republic of Congo] and from Bangui to Douala [in Cameroon]. Both are in the west, thus isolating the northern and eastern Muslim regions.

Moreover, as elsewhere, the colonizers combined military repression with Christian proselytizing. Thus, the first president of the Central African Republic, just before independence in 1959, was a defrocked priest, Barthélémy Boganda, who also was the first Central African ever ordained. The entire history of postcolonial political life in the Central African Republic has been dominated by Christians.

The outbreak of the recent cycle of violent conflict can be dated with precision: The day that French imperialism got its resolution passed by the UN Security Council “the streets of Bangui were piled high with dead bodies and the cycle of religious warfare was unleashed” (Figaro, 26 December 2013). According to that newspaper, “The outraged population is calling for the immediate departure of Djotodia and of all Muslims, including the former Seleka militiamen. The abuses perpetrated by the latter dug an unbridgeable chasm. They and their families, but also the Muslim minority, are now nothing but outsiders on reprieve, surrounded by popular hatred.”

Since that time, the French forces have constantly been accused of partiality. “We don’t want the French. You are the accomplices of the anti-balaka forces that are massacring people,” shouted a soldier in Bangui at French troops in late December, according to the newspaper Le Figaro. The residents of the Begoua district will long remember “Operation Sangaris.” Le Figaro (17 January) described a scene that took place two days earlier:

“In the Nour al-Iman mosque, the Muslim residents reveal five bodies rolled up in rugs, three men and two women.... At the scene of the shooting, in front of a gate where a Toyota with a bullet-ridden windshield is parked, the residents recount: ‘The French arrived poised to fire. They were led by Christians from the neighboring district, who pointed out the houses of the Muslims. People came out onto their doorsteps. And all of a sudden the soldiers started shooting. Five people were killed’.”

This sums up the cynicism of French imperialism. After relying on the Seleka Muslim militias to get rid of Bozizé, they now cede the terrain to pro-Bozizé Christian militias to take care of the Seleka. Civilians on both sides were victims of the perversity—one can hardly call it anything else—of the Socialist Party-Green Party government.

French and UN/African Union Troops Out!

After imposing their colonial domination over more than a dozen black African countries, most of them for a century, the imperialists in Paris, acquiescing to formal independence in the early 1960s, have enforced their political, economic and military domination over these countries in the most brutal manner. De Gaulle simply put in place a neocolonial scheme concocted by social-democrat Gaston Defferre with his 1956 law. Granting independence to these countries while handpicking their leaders was the only way that France could maintain its hold after its humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam and with the National Liberation Front fighters in Algeria determined to win freedom from the colonial yoke on the battlefield.

The fact is that French imperialism, confronted by more economically dynamic competitors, has little else than its “influence” in Africa to survive as a power on the international stage. All the governments in France over the past 50 years, right or left, have had the same policy. Hollande at the Franco-African Summit on December 6 had the nerve to proclaim that “Africa must take full control of its own fate, and in order to succeed in this it must fully ensure its own security,” while at the same time launching his operation in the Central African Republic to disarm the “security” forces. This is reminiscent of Sarkozy’s outrageous racist declaration in Dakar, Senegal, that “the African man has not sufficiently entered into history”—blaming imperialism’s victims for the situation in which imperialism keeps them.

Examples of how France has sought to maintain its influence range from carrying out political assassinations to fomenting rebellions against insufficiently pliant regimes and directly supporting the bloodiest and most genocidal rulers. The military intervention into the Central African Republic is just one example among many others in Africa—there have been more than 50 such interventions in as many years since independence. Particularly criminal was the role of Mitterrand’s France and Dominique de Villepin in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, capped by “Operation Turquoise” to protect assassins fleeing to neighboring Zaire. Today, just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Hollande is prosecuting in the French courts a Rwandan cop involved in the massacres, a clever way to hide the role played by French troops and special forces.

The enslavement of colonial peoples is done at the hands of the same capitalists who exploit French workers. The struggle for workers liberation must be linked to solidarity with colonial peoples and uncompromising opposition to one’s own imperialism. The revolutionary Communist International in 1920 made such solidarity a condition for accepting workers parties into the International. French troops out of the Central African Republic!

The Sordid History of French Colonialism

France’s conquest of Central Africa at the end of the 19th century—when the colonial powers were competing to divide up the continent—was carried out in a particularly brutal manner in the face of bitter resistance. The first French outpost, Bangui, was set up on the shores of the Ubangi River in 1889, and from there bloody military expeditions increasingly advanced into the territory.

It was necessary to quickly demonstrate who was the master. Subsequently, a murderous system of forced labor was established for porterage inside this landlocked country as well as for the building of roads, administrative outposts and the Congo-Ocean railway. In order to exploit the vast resources of “French Equatorial Africa,” the French colonial administration decided to build a railway line from the Congolese capital, Brazzaville, to the port of Pointe-Noire on the Atlantic Ocean.

And they intended to do it no matter what. Albert Londres, an investigative reporter who traveled in French colonial Africa in 1928, denounced the horrible fate visited on the indigenous populations by the imperialists in pursuit of their ambitions. Forcibly seized in their villages, transported by river on barges built to carry animals, a quarter of them died before reaching Brazzaville. They were then forced to do all of the construction work practically without any tools, such as digging tunnels bare-handed under the whip of the “capitas” (village chieftains serving as overseers) without food and exposed to disease. And when they ran out of strength, Albert Londres testified, “I saw Saras, Zindes and Bayas, who no longer had the strength to work, walk into the forest to die” (Terre d’Ebène).

Once the occupation of the country was stabilized and all resistance crushed, the initial accumulation of capital was carried out less through the import of finance capital than through the destruction of the subsistence economy, forced labor and the pure and simple plunder of the forest (rubber, ivory and wood). The forced cultivation of cotton using primitive techniques followed later.

The French colonial administration divided the country into sectors, which were distributed among a small number of private companies in the form of concessions, each one covering thousands or tens of thousands of square kilometers. These companies, as well as the French colonial administration, used forced labor. All the healthy individuals of a village were rounded up and forced to tap rubber trees or build roads and bridges; the others were held hostage. The companies paid for what was harvested not to the villagers who were forced to work but to the supervising official, who used the revenue to pay the village’s taxes to the state.

Only because the administration enlisted the help of the traditional local chiefs to serve as the companies’ auxiliaries was it possible to organize forced labor on a large scale. In his Histoire de la Centrafrique (Volume 1, 1879-1959), Yarisse Zoctizoum cites the testimony of a priest at the time:

“The purchasers (the companies) started to widely distribute production bonuses—liquor, meat, various merchandise, even the village chiefs and guards...and soon nighttime forced labor, violence, and other abuses followed. Auxiliaries acting as cops hunted down the numerous villagers who tried to escape forced labor, and one could see long lines of prisoners, with ropes around their necks, naked and pitiful.... Starved and sick, they dropped like flies.”

Between 1911 and 1929, the population of French Equatorial Africa (Chad, Ubangi Chari—as the Central African Republic was called at the time—Congo and Gabon) plummeted from four million to two million inhabitants (L’Humanité, 19 January 1929).

For such a primitive system, the colonial administration saw no need to build schools. Before World War I, there were barely a few hundred schoolchildren in Ubangi Chari; in 1953, just a few years before independence, a mere 8 percent of children attended school. So much for France’s “civilizing mission”!

The Kongo-Wara Rebellion (1928-1931)

Suffering under the yoke of the colonizers and their state—which had destroyed their ancestral way of life, used their labor for free, burdened them with exorbitant taxes and sent them to faraway regions to build colonial infrastructure—the atomized and illiterate peasants of Central Africa nevertheless raised their heads. They heroically resisted the colonial power in what became known as the Kongo-Wara rebellion (“kongo-wara” means hoe handle in the Baya language), which took place between 1928 and 1931.

This war was started by Karnou, who belonged to a warrior family in the village of Bayanga-Bounia in the Baya region. Karnou undertook to mobilize the peasants to throw the French out. He called for resistance from all the nearby villages and beyond: “Refuse to pay taxes to the administrators, refuse to work for the Whites or to buy from them or sell them anything whatsoever” (Zoctizoum, ibid.). The uprising began in June 1928. The guards sent by the administration to force the peasants to work were either executed or recruited to the insurrection along with their weapons. Police stations, government buildings and residences were burned down. Europeans were denied access to the roads from Bouar to Cameroon and from Bangui to Carnot, as well as those extending toward the Congo and Chad.

Despite Karnou’s death in December 1928, the uprising continued and extended into other regions, including Cameroon, Chad and Gabon. Finally, after receiving reinforcements from other areas of French Equatorial Africa and even from French West Africa, as well as aid from a Cameroonian sultan, the colonial troops defeated the insurgents. The deportation of thousands of peasants followed. The population of the territory fell by more than 20 percent between 1926 and 1931. The last pockets of resistance were eliminated in the “war of the caves” when rebels were asphyxiated with smoke, a barbaric tactic used in the conquest of Algeria nearly a century earlier.

In France the blackout of this insurrection was finally broken on 19 January 1929. L’Humanité, the newspaper of the French Communist Party (CP), headlined that day’s issue “Under the Imperialist Jackboot: In French Equatorial Africa the Negroes Are Rising Up Against Bloody Colonization.” In the article, the CP, which was in the throes of becoming fully Stalinist but not yet the pathetic social-democratic organization it is today, wrote:

“The facts which we cite, and which are recognized even by some colonialist newspapers that cannot be suspected of sympathy for the native peoples, justify the Negroes’ reaction and their desire to vanquish imperialism, the bloodiest potentate that black Africa has ever known. These facts also make it a duty for the working class in France to support the resistance of the oppressed in the colonies, through the highest level of solidarity in common struggle against the imperialist regime and for the independence of the subjugated countries.”

Two days later, L’Humanité addressed the soldiers being sent to crush the rebellion:

“The soldiers who are supposed to play the role of executioners must understand that the black people, whose villages were burned and destroyed by French imperialism, are legitimately defending themselves and that their fight is the fight of all the exploited and oppressed.

“They must repeat and broaden the act of fraternization that was carried out by the artillerymen of Grande-Combe when faced with the miners of Alès.”

And the CP understood that the unspeakable crimes of imperialism were not aberrations but were “inseparable from the regime of capitalist and colonialist exploitation” (L’Humanité, 22 January 1929).

French Reformists and Central Africa

Today, in contrast, all the CP can do is give critical support to the intervention and propose to the French imperialists an alternate policy to stabilize the political situation and create a more favorable climate for local capitalism (which to a large extent is in French hands, just as in the past), writing on its Web site:

“Paris must disengage militarily and seek a political solution favoring the reconstruction of the country and its sovereignty. France must promote a genuine multilateral action in order to address the real causes that have led to the destabilization of the country, to put an end to regional tensions and to fight against poverty in this country, which is extremely rich in natural resources.”

According to Baromètre Metronews of December 2013, 64 percent of the French population opposed the military intervention in the Central African Republic. It is, therefore, not very surprising that almost all the various left groups in France say they are “against the French intervention.” But none of them really explains the link between imperialist marauding overseas and the oppression of workers at home. And above all these groups are completely incapable of offering a real revolutionary perspective—i.e., socialist revolution—to the masses, whether in Africa or in France. In fact, Hollande, the chief of French imperialism, was put in power with the open or backhanded support of all these groups.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a French military adventure in Africa would have brought out thousands of people into the streets to protest against French depredations. The reformists of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA, formerly the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire), Lutte Ouvrière and others have completely made their peace with their own imperialism, a peace sealed by their avowed or covert support to capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and East Europe in 1989-92. These days, when the government sends its killers to Abidjan (Ivory Coast) in 2004 and 2010, to Gao (Mali) in 2013 and to Bangui, these reformists are no longer moved to immediately take to the streets, even for the sake of appearances.

The NPA has published a number of articles about the Central African Republic. Olivier Besancenot and his NPA comrades expressed their discomfort with the French intervention, while implying that, at bottom, what concerns them is its inadequacy:

“The official objective of the French intervention is to secure Bangui and the main routes for humanitarian access. They will ignore the rest of the country where three quarters of the population lives, and the Seleka militiamen will probably leave the capital and will be able to wreak havoc in the country’s cities and villages with total impunity.”

—“Central Africa: Nefarious French Continuity,” Hebdo L’Anticapitaliste No. 221, 12 December 2013

For International Socialist Revolution!

The struggles that are drowning Africa in blood, whether they are interethnic or interreligious or take other forms, are rooted in extreme poverty and the competition for very scarce natural resources. According to recent UN figures, the Central African Republic has one doctor for every 10,000 people! On average, 159 of every 1,000 children born will not reach their fifth birthday. Only one child in eight of secondary school age has access to a school.

The legacy of more than 100 years of French imperialist oppression in Central Africa is particularly damning. The backwardness is such that today in that country there are hardly any proletarian forces with the social power to be able to offer a way out for the oppressed masses. But such forces do exist in Africa, to begin with in South Africa but also in Egypt and elsewhere. The only perspective is to forge cadres today for the future workers party that must be authentically communist, revolutionary and internationalist. As we said in our article about Mali last year (“Imperialist Troops Out of Mali Now!”, Le Bolchévik No. 203, March 2013 [reprinted from WV No. 1016, 25 January 2013]):

“There will be no end to the interethnic bloodshed and abject poverty of the region within the framework of capitalism. Just as the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 opened up the perspective of revolutionary change in the backward regions of Central Asia, the emancipation of the masses in the Sahel and other parts of Africa whose development has been so dreadfully retarded must be linked to the international struggle of the working class for socialist revolution. Proletarian revolution in South Africa, Egypt or other countries in Africa that have experienced significant industrial development would propel social transformation reaching into the most backward areas of the continent. Such a perspective must include the fight for socialist revolution in France and other imperialist centers, where Malian and other immigrant workers can provide a living link to the struggles of the dispossessed in Africa. What is necessary is the forging of Trotskyist vanguard parties committed to the fight for new October Revolutions.”


Workers Vanguard No. 1046

WV 1046

16 May 2014


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French Troops Out of Central African Republic!

Fifty Interventions in Fifty Years of African Independence