"The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes. In other words, what you show people, day in and day out, is political... And the most politically indoctrinating thing you can do to a human being is to show him, every day, that there can be no change. " WIM WENDERS
In 1791, the slaves of France's most profitable Caribbean colony, Saint Domingue, revolted. The uprising was kindled by the appalling exploitation and abuse of the colony's enslaved African population, and stoked by thesame Enlightenment values championed by white anti-monarchic revolutionaries in the United States and France itself.
But the independent republic of Haiti that eventually emerged in 1804 was never an equal among the brotherhood of Western nations. To the north, the United States, a nation of slaveowners, regarded Haiti, a nation of free blacks, with unvarnished horror and boycotted its merchants.
Meanwhile, France, the spurned former colonial ruler, fumed at its losses. In 1825, with a French flotilla threatening invasion, Haiti was compelled to pay a king's ransom of 150 million gold francs — estimated to be ten times the country's annual revenues — in indemnities to compensate French settlers and slaveowners for their lost plantations. The sum would be later reduced to 90 million gold francs, but that was little consolation: Haiti, in effect, was forced to pay reparations for its freedom.
This history is not as distant as it may seem. It set the stage for many decades of Haitian economic misery and underdevelopment to come—the country, one of the poorest nations in the Western hemisphere, did not finish repaying its 19th century debts to France and the U.S. until the middle of the 20th century.
And the legacy of the past was very much alive this week, as French President Francois Hollande landed on Tuesday on a historic visit to Haiti.
On Sunday, Hollande had made remarks in the Caribbean island of the Guadeloupe that he would "settle the debt that [the French] have" with Haiti—a declaration that was rapidly back-tracked by aides, who insisted Hollande was referring to a "moral" debt, not an actual financial one.
In Haiti, Hollande promised large-scale French assistance, including a plan to help modernize the country's education system. He acknowledged that a "moral debt exists," but skirted whether the wrongs of the 19th century would be more directly addressed through reparations.
"You’re not asking for aid, you want development," Hollande said, addressing an audience of Haitian dignitaries in Port-au-Prince. "You’re not asking for welfare, you want investment."
But many in Haiti want more than that, including a group of protesters who greeted Hollande's arrival with placards and chants. France's hollowing out of the fledgling nation's coffers is seen by some as the original disaster, one that underlies the myriad Haitian dysfunctions and tragedies that followed.
While France belatedly offered a public apology for the history of slavery that shaped the Caribbean, and also canceled Haiti's $77 million debt following the cataclysmic 2010 earthquake, activists say that the indemnities unjustly forced on Haiti more than a century ago must be reversed. Some calculate that returning all those 19th century gold francs would add up to about $17 billion.
Separately, a bloc of 15 Caribbean nations has embarked on a joint quest to obtain reparations from Europe's slave-trading and owning empires, and optimistically seek to win accords with the British, French and Dutch governments.
But such an understanding regarding reparations from Europe is still distant, not least because of the tricky politics that would follow for the former colonial power. There are many skeletons in the closets of Europe's lapsed empires, and one formal act of reparation would likely beget calls for others.
Haiti's President Michel Martelly appeared to recognize this. "No negotiation, no compensation can repair the wounds of history that still mark us today," he told Hollande on Tuesday. "Haiti has not forgotten, but Haiti is not stubborn."
An article in Haiti's main newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, cited by France 24, shrugged off the question of reparations. France, concluded editor Frantz Duval, will have to reckon with its own demons for many years to come:
The moral debt that is owed is for having enslaved the blacks who were uprooted from Africa to transform every drop of their sweat and blood, and each parcel of land on Saint Domingue, into wealth for the imperial center. For this moral debt, Haiti does not seek compensation. We agree that it is irreparable. We leave it to be a stain on the civilized world.
Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.
Did you know many African countries continue to pay colonial tax to France since their independence till today!
When Sékou Touré of Guinea decided in 1958 to get out of french colonial empire, and opted for the country independence, the french colonial elite in Paris got so furious, and in a historic act of fury the french administration in Guinea destroyed everything in the country which represented what they called the benefits from french colonization.
Three thousand French left the country, taking all their property and destroying anything that which could not be moved: schools, nurseries, public administration buildings were crumbled; cars, books, medicine, research institute instruments, tractors were crushed and sabotaged; horses, cows in the farms were killed, and food in warehouses were burned or poisoned.
The purpose of this outrageous act was to send a clear message to all other colonies that the consequences for rejecting France would be very high.
Slowly fear spread trough the african elite, and none after the Guinea events ever found the courage to follow the example of Sékou Touré, whose slogan was “We prefer freedom in poverty to opulence in slavery.”
Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of the Republic of Togo, a tiny country in west Africa, found a middle ground solution with the French.
He didn’t want his country to continue to be a french dominion, therefore he refused to sign the colonisation continuation pact De Gaule proposed, but agree to pay an annual debt to France for the so called benefits Togo got from french colonization.
It was the only conditions for the French not to destroy the country before leaving. However, the amount estimated by France was so big that the reimbursement of the so called “colonial debt” was close to 40% of the country budget in 1963.
The financial situation of the newly independent Togo was very unstable, so in order to get out the situation, Olympio decided to get out the french colonial money FCFA (the franc for french african colonies), and issue the country own currency.
On January 13, 1963, three days after he started printing his country own currency, a squad of illiterate soldiers backed by France killed the first elected president of newly independent Africa. Olympio was killed by an ex French Foreign Legionnaire army sergeant called Etienne Gnassingbe who supposedly received a bounty of $612 from the local French embassy for the hit man job.
Olympio’s dream was to build an independent and self-sufficient and self-reliant country. But the French didn’t like the idea.
On June 30, 1962, Modiba Keita , the first president of the Republic of Mali, decided to withdraw from the french colonial currency FCFA which was imposed on 12 newly independent African countries. For the Malian president, who was leaning more to a socialist economy, it was clear that colonisation continuation pact with France was a trap, a burden for the country development.
On November 19, 1968, like, Olympio, Keita will be the victim of a coup carried out by another ex French Foreign legionnaire, the Lieutenant Moussa Traoré.
In fact during that turbulent period of African fighting to liberate themselves from European colonization, France would repeatedly use many ex Foreign legionnaires to carry out coups against elected presidents:
– On January 1st, 1966, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, an ex french foreign legionnaire, carried a coup against David Dacko, the first President of the Central African Republic.
– On January 3, 1966, Maurice Yaméogo, the first President of the Republic of Upper Volta, now called Burkina Faso, was victim of a coup carried by Aboubacar Sangoulé Lamizana, an ex French legionnaire who fought with french troops in Indonesia and Algeria against these countries independence.
– on 26 October 1972, Mathieu Kérékou who was a security guard to President Hubert Maga, the first President of the Republic of Benin, carried a coup against the president, after he attended French military schools from 1968 to 1970.
In fact, during the last 50 years, a total of 67 coups happened in 26 countries in Africa, 16 of those countries are french ex-colonies, which means 61% of the coups happened in Francophone Africa.
“Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century”
At this very moment I’m writing this article, 14 african countries are obliged by France, trough a colonial pact, to put 85% of their foreign reserve into France central bank under French minister of Finance control. Until now, 2014, Togo and about 13 other african countries still have to pay colonial debt to France. African leaders who refuse are killed or victim of coup. Those who obey are supported and rewarded by France with lavish lifestyle while their people endure extreme poverty, and desperation.
It’s such an evil system even denounced by the European Union, but France is not ready to move from that colonial system which puts about 500 billions dollars from Africa to its treasury year in year out.
We often accuse African leaders of corruption and serving western nations interests instead, but there is a clear explanation for that behavior. They behave so because they are afraid the be killed or victim of a coup. They want a powerful nation to back them in case of aggression or trouble. But, contrary to a friendly nation protection, the western protection is often offered in exchange of these leaders renouncing to serve their own people or nations’ interests.
African leaders would work in the interest of their people if they were not constantly stalked and bullied by colonial countries.
In 1958, scared about the consequence of choosing independence from France, Leopold Sédar Senghor declared: “The choice of the Senegalese people is independence; they want it to take place only in friendship with France, not in dispute.”
From then on France accepted only an “independence on paper” for his colonies, but signed binding “Cooperation Accords”, detailing the nature of their relations with France, in particular ties to France colonial currency (the Franc), France educational system, military and commercial preferences.
Below are the 11 main components of the Colonisation continuation pact since 1950s:
#1. Colonial Debt for the benefits of France colonization
The newly “independent” countries should pay for the infrastructure built by France in the country during colonization.
I still have to find out the complete details about the amounts, the evaluation of the colonial benefits and the terms of payment imposed on the african countries, but we are working on that (help us with info).
#2. Automatic confiscation of national reserves
The African countries should deposit their national monetary reserves into France Central bank.
France has been holding the national reserves of fourteen african countries since 1961: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
“The monetary policy governing such a diverse aggregation of countries is uncomplicated because it is, in fact, operated by the French Treasury, without reference to the central fiscal authorities of any of the WAEMU or the CEMAC. Under the terms of the agreement which set up these banks and the CFA the Central Bank of each African country is obliged to keep at least 65% of its foreign exchange reserves in an “operations account” held at the French Treasury, as well as another 20% to cover financial liabilities.
The CFA central banks also impose a cap on credit extended to each member country equivalent to 20% of that country’s public revenue in the preceding year. Even though the BEAC and the BCEAO have an overdraft facility with the French Treasury, the drawdowns on those overdraft facilities are subject to the consent of the French Treasury. The final say is that of the French Treasury which has invested the foreign reserves of the African countries in its own name on the Paris Bourse.
In short, more than 80% of the foreign reserves of these African countries are deposited in the “operations accounts” controlled by the French Treasury. The two CFA banks are African in name, but have no monetary policies of their own. The countries themselves do not know, nor are they told, how much of the pool of foreign reserves held by the French Treasury belongs to them as a group or individually.
The earnings of the investment of these funds in the French Treasury pool are supposed to be added to the pool but no accounting is given to either the banks or the countries of the details of any such changes. The limited group of high officials in the French Treasury who have knowledge of the amounts in the “operations accounts”, where these funds are invested; whether there is a profit on these investments; are prohibited from disclosing any of this information to the CFA banks or the central banks of the African states .” Wrote Dr. Gary K. Busch
It’s now estimated that France is holding close to 500 billions African countries money in its treasury, and would do anything to fight anyone who want to shed a light on this dark side of the old empire.
The African countries don’t have access to that money.
France allows them to access only 15% of the money in any given year. If they need more than that, they have to borrow the extra money from their own 65% from the French Treasury at commercial rates.
To make things more tragic, France impose a cap on the amount of money the countries could borrow from the reserve. The cap is fixed at 20% of their public revenue in the preceding year. If the countries need to borrow more than 20% of their own money, France has a veto.
Former French President Jacques Chirac recently spoke about the African nations money in France banks. Here is a video of him speaking about the french exploitation scheme. He is speaking in French, but here is a short excerpt transcript: “We have to be honest, and acknowledge that a big part of the money in our banks come precisely from the exploitation of the African continent.”
#3. Right of first refusal on any raw or natural resource discovered in the country
France has the first right to buy any natural resources found in the land of its ex-colonies. It’s only after France would say, “I’m not interested”, that the African countries are allowed to seek other partners.
#4. Priority to French interests and companies in public procurement and public biding
In the award of government contracts, French companies must be considered first, and only after that these countries could look elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if the african countries can obtain better value for money elsewhere.
As consequence, in many of the french ex-colonies, all the majors economical assets of the countries are in the hand of french expatriates. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, french companies own and control all the major utilities – water, electricity, telephone, transport, ports and major banks. The same in commerce, construction, and agriculture.
#5. Exclusive right to supply military equipment and Train the country military officers
Through a sophisticated scheme of scholarships, grants, and “Defense Agreements” attached to the Colonial Pact, the africans should send their senior military officers for training in France or French ran-training facilities.
The situation on the continent now is that France has trained hundreds, even thousands of traitors and nourish them. They are dormant when they are not needed, and activated when needed for a coup or any other purpose!
#6. Right for France to pre-deploy troops and intervene military in the country to defend its interests
Under something called “Defence Agreements” attached to the Colonial Pact, France had the legal right to intervene militarily in the African countries, and also to station troops permanently in bases and military facilities in those
countries, run entirely by the French.
French military bases in Africa
When President Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d’Ivoire tried to end the French exploitation of the country, France organized a coup. During the long process to oust Gbagbo, France tanks, helicopter gunships and Special Forces intervened directly in the conflit, fired on civilians and killed many.
To add insult to injury, France estimated that the French business community had lost several millions of dollars when in the rush to leave Abidjan in 2006 the French Army massacred 65 unarmed civilians and wounded 1,200 others.
After France succeeded the coup, and transferred power to Alassane Outtara, France requested Ouattara government to pay compensation to French business community for the losses during the civil war.
Indeed the Ouattara government paid them twice what they said they had lost in leaving.
#7. Obligation to make French the official language of the country and the language for education
Oui, Monsieur. Vous devez parlez français, la langue de Molière!
A French language and culture dissemination organization has been created called “Francophonie” with several satellites and affiliates organizations supervised by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs.
As demonstrated in this article, if French is the only language you speak, you’d have access to less than 4% of humanity knowledge and ideas. That’s very limiting.
#8. Obligation to use France colonial money FCFA
That’s the real milk cow for France, but it’s such an evil system even denounced by the European Union, but France is not ready to move from that colonial system which puts about 500 billions dollars from Africa to its treasury.
During the introduction of Euro currency in Europe, other european countries discovered the french exploitation scheme. Many, specially the nordic countries, were appalled and suggested France get rid of the system, but unsuccessfully.
#9. Obligation to send France annual balance and reserve report.
Without the report, no money.
Anyway the secretary of the Central banks of the ex-colonies, and the secretary of the bi-annual meeting of the Ministers of Finance of the ex-colonies is carried out by France Central bank / Treasury.
#10. Renonciation to enter into military alliance with any other country unless authorized by France
African countries in general are the ones with will less regional military alliances. Most of the countries have only military alliances with their ex-colonisers! (funny, but you can’t do better!).
In the case France ex-colonies, France forbid them to seek other military alliance except the one it offered them.
#11. Obligation to ally with France in situation of war or global crisis
Their contribution is often ignored or minimized, but when you think that it took only 6 weeks for Germany to defeat France in 1940, France knows that Africans could be useful for fighting for la “Grandeur de la France” in the future.
There is something almost psychopathic in the relation of France with Africa.
First, France is severely addicted to looting and exploitation of Africa since the time of slavery. Then there is this complete lack of creativity and imagination of french elite to think beyond the past and tradition.
Finally, France has 2 institutions which are completely frozen into the past, inhabited by paranoid and psychopath “haut fonctionnaires” who spread fear of apocalypse if France would change, and whose ideological reference still comes from the 19th century romanticism: they are the Minister of Finance and Budget of France and the Minister of Foreign affairs of France.
These 2 institutions are not only a threat to Africa, but to the French themselves.
It’s up to us as African to free ourselves, without asking for permission, because I still can’t understand for example how 450 french soldiers in Côte d’Ivoire could control a population of 20 millions people!?
People first reaction when they learn about the french colonial tax is often a question: “Until when?”
For historical comparison, France made Haiti to pay the modern equivalent of $21 billion from 1804 till 1947 (almost one century and half) for the losses caused to french slave traders by theabolition of slavery and the liberation of the Haitian slaves.
African countries are paying the colonial tax only for the last 50 years, so I think one century of payment might be left!
Mawuna Koutonin is a world peace activist who relentlessly works to empower people to express their full potential and pursue their dreams, regardless of their background. He is the Editior of SiliconAfrica.com, Founder of Goodbuzz.net, and Social activist for Africa Renaissance. Koutonin’s ultimate dream is to open a world-class human potential development school in Africa in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about this venture or Koutonin’s other projects, you can reach him directly by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to political entertainment, it doesn't get much better than presidential election season in the United States. Foreign observers follow the race to determine who is best equipped to lead the US - and, to some extent, the world - towards a more stable, secure, and prosperous future.
But in the US, entertainment is king, and Americans tend to focus on excitement above all - who looks better, has a catchier soundbite, seems most "authentic", and so on, often to the point of absurdity.
This is not a new approach, of course. Edward Bernays, the father of modern public relations, examined it in 1928, in his book Propaganda."Politics was the first big business in America," he declared, and political campaigns are "all side shows, all honours, all bombast, glitter, and speeches". The key to victory is the manipulation of public opinion, and that is achieved most effectively by appealing to the "mental cliches and emotional habits of the public".
A president, in other words, is nothing more than a product to be marketed. And, as any marketeer knows, the quality of the product is not necessarily what drives its success; if it were, Donald Trump would not be regarded as a serious candidate for the Republican Party nomination, much less a top contender.
Instead, a president must serve as a kind of imaginary friend: a beer buddy for men, an earnest empathizer for women, or a charming Twitter user for the millennials.
In the current campaign, the most complex candidate, Hillary Clinton, is suffering mightily as a result of - let's be honest - personality issues. She has made important policy contributions as US secretary of state in the first Obama administration, and she has offered what is arguably the most complete economic vision of any presidential candidate. Yet she is facing a serious challenge from Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist senator from Vermont, in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Sanders' popularity stems partly from the image he projects of a stereotypical "nutty professor", adorably of another world. His energetic and unselfconscious gesticulations make him seem passionate and genuine. Yet his actual policy suggestions - such as free post-secondary education and universal healthcare - resemble Trump's calls to "make America great again", in the sense that they establish simple yet visionary goals.
According to Bernays, people's desire for simplicity extends to another area of electoral politics: "Party machines should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four." Here, the Republicans have gone badly astray. After beginning the election season with 17 candidates, they have managed to narrow it down by only a few, to 12.
Who is the right Republican candidate?
Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and younger brother of George W Bush, was initially considered a serious contender. But Trump is right, for once, in his observation that Bush is a "low-energy" person. He is the Charlie Brown of the election, whose every swipe at the football is thwarted by his savvier counterparts.
Another Floridian, Senator Marco Rubio, is a more energetic establishment alternative. But his campaign, like his appearance, lacks definition and assertiveness - not to mention a good soundbite.
A lack of soundbites is not a problem for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose Tony Soprano vibe and brash one-liners have plenty of entertainment value. Indeed, in a typical US presidential election campaign, Christie might be a contender for the most cartoonish candidate. But this is not a typical campaign, because there's nothing typical about Trump.
With his exaggerated facial expressions, penchant for trash talking, and love of superlatives, Trump - a showman and a businessman - seems to have the right background for Bernays-style public manipulation.
But he has the wrong background for a president. (It is worth asking whether he really even wants to be president. He must know that, like the Wizard of Oz, he can portray himself as great and powerful only until he needs to perform actual miracles.)
Among these one-dimensional figures, one fully formed candidate stands out: the Texan Ted Cruz. Once a national debating champion, Cruz is fully in control of his persona; not even Trump, with his frantic attacks on Cruz's eligibility (because he was born in Canada), can get under his skin.
In fact, it is Cruz who has made Trump squirm. In last week's Republican debate, Cruz accused Trump of having "New York values", calling the city (explicitly excluding New York State) "socially liberal" and focused on "money and media".
Cruz managed not only to get a rise out of Trump, but also to enhance his own appeal to conservative voters in the Midwest and South, who view New York as a kind of modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. (New Yorkers and many others were also offended by Cruz's statement, not because the city isn't socially liberal and the home base of the US media and financial industries, but because the pejorative use of "New York" has historically been an anti-Semitic dog whistle.)
Appropriately plastic-looking, Cruz can, when necessary, act as brainless as Sarah Palin (who has just endorsed Trump). But Cruz, educated at Princeton and Harvard, is no fool. He is, as Bernays taught, treating his campaign as a "drive for votes, just as an Ivory Soap advertising campaign is a drive for sales".
Trump is a showman who has captured the public's attention. But Cruz is a propagandist, selling to his constituents an ostensibly credible story of actual leadership. Though he, like Clinton, is not the most broadly likeable character, he would be a worthy contender in a presidential election. The question is whether Americans will want to buy what they are selling.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.