Why Macron rules out official apology for colonial atrocities in Algeria?

French President Emmanuel Macron has ruled out issuing an official apology for colonial abuses in Algeria, his office said on January 20. There will be “no repentance nor apologies” for the occupation of Algeria or the bloody eight-year war that ended French rule, Macron’s office said, adding that the president would instead take part in “symbolic acts” aimed at promoting reconciliation.

The 1954-62 Algerian war of independence continues to strain relations between the two countries nearly 60 years later.

Also on January 20, an historian commissioned by the president with assessing “the progress made by France on the memory of the colonization of Algeria and the Algerian war”, submitted his findings. The report by Benjamin Stora recommended the creation of a “memory and truth” commission to address abuses committed in the north African country.

Stora recommended to Macron that a mixed French-Algerian commission could hear testimony from people who suffered during Algeria’s war of independence and work towards reconciliation. Tellingly, Stora also believes that apologizing will not get to the heart of the issue.

Algerian President Abdemadjid Tebboune had two years ago called for a full apology from France, saying Algeria so far had only received "half apologies".

The French atrocities are best represented in the display of skulls of Algerian resistance fighters at the Paris Museum. The fighters’ skulls were taken to Paris as war trophies.

Macron’s refusal to apologize for its atrocities in Algeria reflects his country’s attitude and mind-set towards Africa.

Africa and France: An unfulfilled dream of independence?

"60 years on, francophone countries in Africa still do not have true independence and freedom from France," says Nathalie Yamb, adviser to Ivory Coast's Freedom and Democracy Party. Even the content of school textbooks is often still determined by France, she was quoted by Deutsche Welle (DW) as saying.

But more importantly, the political system in many of the countries was introduced by France. "Shortly before independence, France decided to abolish the parliamentary system in some countries like Ivory Coast and introduce a presidential regime in which all territories and powers are in the hands of the head of state," Yamb told DW. The reason being that in this way, "only one person with all the power needs to be manipulated," she said.

In 1962, French President Charles de Gaulle commissioned his adviser Jacques Foccart to build up Françafrique. Foccart came up with the treaties that are still in force today. In exchange for military protection against attempted coups and the payment of hefty kickbacks, African leaders guaranteed French companies access to strategic resources such as diamonds, ores, uranium, gas and oil. The result is a solid presence of French interests on the continent, including 1,100 companies, some 2,100 subsidiaries and the third largest investment portfolio after Great Britain and the United States. France also retains the right of first refusal on all natural resources and privileged access to government contracts.

How France exploits Africa

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said in January 2019 that France was manipulating the economies of 14 African countries that use the CFA franc, a currency underwritten by the French Treasury and pegged to the Euro. He then added: "If France didn't have its African colonies, because that's what they should be called, it would be the 15th largest world economy. Instead it's among the first, exactly because of what it is doing in Africa."

After World War II, through political, security, economic and cultural ties, France did maintain a tight stranglehold in Francophone Africa, both to serve its interests and retain a last bastion of imperial prestige, according to Giorgio Spagnol of the European Institute of International Relations (IERI).

After World War II, the colonial pact maintained the French control over the economies of the African states; it took possession of their foreign currency reserves; it controlled the strategic raw materials of the country; it stationed troops in the country with the right of free passage; it demanded that all military equipment be acquired from France; it took over the training of the African police and army; it required that French businesses be allowed to maintain monopoly enterprises in key areas (water, electricity, ports, transport, energy, etc.). France not only set limits on the imports of a range of items from outside the franc zone but also set minimum quantities of imports from France. These treaties are still in force and operational, Giorgio Spagnol said.

For the past half-century, the secretive and powerful "African Cell" has overseen France's strategic interests in Africa reporting only to one person: the French president. Some of the consequences for the Africa countries of a policy of dependence are obvious: dependence on the French economy; dependence on the French military; and the open-door policy for French private enterprise.

Over the past 60 years France has maintained a disproportionate influence over its former African colonies. It has guarded its interests in Africa through economic power, covert action and dozens of military interventions.

France has a clear understanding of its national interests in Africa and of the threats jeopardizing connectivity and supply chain: in particular airports and ports whose control ensures the continued flow of goods, military equipment and personnel between France and its former colonies. It is up to France to decide when and whether a regime merits protection as already happened in Sudan in 2008, in Chad in 2008 and in the Central African Republic in 2012.

Furthermore, France pushed heavily for intervention in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi. The aim was to thwart Gaddafi's attempt to create a gold-backed African currency to supplant France as the dominant power in the Francophone Africa region.

In March 2008, former French President Jacques Chirac said: “Without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third world power”. Chirac’s predecessor François Mitterrand prophesied in 1957 that: “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century”, Giorgio Spagnol concluded.

—Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011$