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Jacques Foccart; Foccart Speaks But Says Very Little

January 13, 2018

Photo of the leaders of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon – 1950s – the national movement for a truly independent post-French colonial Cameroon crushed by France with more than 200,000 killed. One of the key architects of this butchery – and that is what it was – Jacques Foccart. This is part of France’s history in Africa of which Foccart ne parle pas.

Jacques Foccart

I remember reading about a discussion that took place in the British cabinet at the end of World War II. Many of the cabinet members were worried about how “history” would view their role in the war, especially the British cowardly and blind kowtowing to Hitler prior to the war – Chamberlain’s concessions being high among them, the humiliating and utter defeat of the British force in Europe and the stampede withdrawal from Dunkirk, etc. But Churchill was nonplussed and commented, “History will be kind to me for I will write it.” Write it he did – a magnificence self-defense of his actions from the Boer War, through Gallipoli, the poison gas bombing of Iraq to British spinelessness in the buildup of the Nazi war machine. Historians have had something less than an easy task of deconstructing what is little more than a series of spins, exaggerations and lies that Churchill perpetrated. Among his other skills – indeed might have been a stone-cold reactionary defender of the British Empire, but no fool – Churchill was a master at “shaping the narrative’ – sometimes mistaken to be history.

For a variety of reasons, Jacques Foccart, Charles De Gaulle’s expert on Africa and no small personage in French 20th century history, tried to do likewise – to shape the narrative of French involvement in post-colonial Africa – but failed. He did so in a series of sixty interviews that became a two-volume work by Philippe Gaillard, entitled Foccart Parle (Foccart Speaks), a narrative that plays well domestically in France – with some notable exceptions – but, like the current president of the United States (2018) is not taken very seriously outside of French circles, and downright ridiculed pretty much everywhere in Africa. So Foccart failed where Churchill, at least for half a century, succeeded – in shaping the narrative.

It is now more than twenty years since Jacques Foccart, close adviser to three French presidents on African affairs, died of Parkinson’s Disease. Born in the Ambrières (Mayenne) France in 1913, he spent his early years in Guadeloupe; his family moved back to France in 1919 where he spent the rest of his life. During World War II Foccart, joined the French Resistance, serving directly under General Charles De Gaulle. It was during that period that the relationship between the two solidified. After De Gaulle’s death, Foccart remained in the Administration of Georges Pompidou. He formerly left political life in 1974 with Pompidou’s death, but returns to be an adviser of Jacques Chirac in 1986 until his death in 1997 from Parkinsons’ It would last a lifetime.

At the war’s end in 1946, De Gaulle retired from active political life. Foccart was one of those who help engineer his return to power twelve years later. Although he never held a ministry position, once De Gaulle became president of France in 1958, Foccart would become – and remain – one of the general’s most important advisers.” According the watchdog organization of French machinations in Africa, Survie, De Gaulle tapped Foccart set up and direct the activities of “Francafrique” – a collection of arrangements, contacts, and intelligence collecting to insure French influence in its former colonies long after independence. De Gaulle tapped him as his Africa expert. De Gaulle officially conceded independence to France’s African colonies but through Francafrique retained informal economic, political, financial and military control of the “independent countries.

In fact, the system is still alive and well today.

Foccart also organized the Gaullist political party – the RPF and it’s successor, the UDR. From these parties he recruited trusted ultra-conservative elements into the Service d’Action Civique, the S.A.C. a kind of right-wing paramilitary operation that at certain critical moments (the early 1960s attempts of the O.A.S. to seize power, the events of May 1968) would be called upon to defend De Gaulle – and French conservatism.

Understanding that the anti-colonial wave that followed the end of World War II was too powerful for France to counter, De Gaulle looked for some formula that would formally grant its African colonies independence, but in an arrangement that would ensure continued French control of their economies and overall fate. Outright colonialism was replaced by what would soon be referred to as neo-colonialism, countries having gained political independence but remained in every way controlled and “under the thumb” of their former colonial masters, a kind of “sneaky” colonialism that gives the trappings of independence without its essence.

France in Africa, Francafrique, was a master of this new, neo-colonialism and Jacques Foccart, as much as anyone was the architect of this complex system of relationships that kept former colonies in line. It would result in French informal – but pervasive – French control of its former African colonies, technically independent, but in fact, still dominated by Paris – and drained of it wealth – economically, politically, strategically and militarily. This end Foccart, a master organizer, established a series of influential informal networks, right-wing paramilitary organizations in support of De Gaulle, and financial networks – secret funding mechanisms for projects both in France and internationally He became De Gaulle’s conduit with France’s security services.

Although there is plenty of evidence that he had close contacts with French intelligence organizations, Foccart denied working for the French intelligence agencies outright but admits being an informer for them, his own claim of plausible deniability. Now seventy-two years after the end of World War II, and more than half a century after France’s former African colonies gained formal independence, Francafrique, the twisted heritage of Jacques Foccart, remains alive and well – as vibrant and corrupt as ever, and as insidious to genuine all round social development in Africa has it has ever been.

Foccart’s methodology to insure France’s continued control of its former colonies combined a variety of methods that included the use of both “soft” and “hard” power. Personal contacts with different pliable African leaders was a key element in the program. He kept in personal touch with a plethora of African leaders, both those in power and in the opposition, speaking to some of them almost on a daily basis (as appears to be the case with Felix Houphoet Boigny of Ivory Coast). He specialized in catering to their personal needs – at times insatiable – and if not directly involved in corrupting them through offers of money, sex and other perks, indirectly knew how to get the private sector or the security apparatus to release the necessary funds. He also knew how to shower them not only with money but with titles, entry into exclusive French political circles.

Survie accuses Foccart, in his role as initiator, organizer of Francafrique of keeping different African leaders from former French colonies on a tight lease. He is also accused of encouraging the massacres of the Bamilékés (Cameroon) and the assassination of African independence leaders who opposed French subservience, at the same time smothering the hopes of a truly independent African development. Those who refused to be so corrupted – who sought more independent paths for post colonial African political development were either politically or physically eliminated – Sylvio Olympio, Thomas Sankara, Sekou Touré, Ruben Um Nyobe and his colleague, Felix-Roland Moumie among them.

In the same manner that Foccart provided a cover for De Gaulle, so that the latter could claim “plausible deniability” for the crimes France was committing in Africa, although rumors swirled about his involvement in so many coups and assassinations of African leaders, Foccart himself was able to personally distance himself – up to a point – from the results of political decisions taken by him to insure French influence would remain strong long after the colonial period ended. He achieved this by training and supporting a number of African leaders whose allegiance to France, and French neo-colonialism endured during for their lifetimes, among them Senghor (Senegal), Bongo (Gabon), Ahidjo (Cameroon), Campaoré (Burkina Faso) but none more influential than Houphouët Boigny (Ivory Coast).

These close personal contact included the sending of advisors, “cooperants”, ambassadors to different African countries that became confidantes to the different presidents there, watch dogging and assuring that French economic and strategic interests in the continent were maintained, at the expense of course, of the people of Africa. In virtually all of these countries, the population as a whole remained dirt poor, development never went beyond improving the efficiency of raw material and basic food production in a global market that more often than not saw the prices of commodities plummet as a result of supersaturation. Allusions of democracy were sometimes upheld although more often than not the glue that held the political system together was severe repression, the threat of French military intervention (which often happened) and the insidious role of the French secret services the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE) which succeeded the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE) in 1982

Providing a cover of legitimacy for De Gaulle – and for Foccart himself – required a two-track French African policy. On the one hand were the formal statements of the foreign ministry, filled as they were with high-sounding phases of France’s support for full national self-determination of its former African colonies. On the other hand there were the more secretive initiatives of DGSE, the key French corporations working Africa (Areva, Bourgyes, ELF and the like), the French military in Africa as well as mercenary elements like the now infamous Bob Denard that worked in tandem with the French government – through the likes of Foccart –

Writing some 33 years ago in the Journal of Modern African Studies,”The Historical, Economic and Political Basis of France’s Africa Policy,” Guy Martin sketched out the underlying characteristics of Francafrique succinctly.(1)Guy  Despite denials by many French government officials since, these guidelines remain in force today. Very little has changed. At the heart of the matter, was the French goal of “divide and rule” – to divide the post colonial French African world into small manageable units – to opposed any and all efforts at the region’s political integration – so as to create tensions and competition among these small entities to render them more easily controlled by the former colonial power, in this particular case, France. This was a classic colonial and post colonial maneuver. It is essentially the same process that resulted from the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1917, to avoid at all costs a single Arab political entity, slicing the Middle East into a series of countries that would be forever in conflict with one another. In the early days of the Soviet Union, Stalin did essentially the same by slicing up the predominantly Turkish speaking regions of (what was then) Soviet Central Asia into a series of smaller “stans” (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan) to foil any efforts of Turkic political unity.    What are they as Martin describes them:

In the French African case, France feared losing control of a strong unified African state – with its natural resources, its potential markets and overall influence on the continent. There were a number of plans De Gaulle (and Foccart) floated to the colonies in the 1950s, all of which were meant to retain French influence. In the end it was the “Francafrique model” which survived – a series of small politically independent countries but which were through secret treaties, trade relations, a common currency and a complex web of personal relationships tied to Paris at the hip, in such a way that informally, but quite thoroughly, France would maintain control.

Martin notes a number of enduring characteristics of Francafrique. They include:

  • Racism. He notes how racism has “ pervaded franco-African relations ever since the first encounter between the two civilizations.” He quotes (Albert) Memmi as to its nature. “Such an attitude persists in the neo-colonial era…the paternalist is one who sees himself as generous, once racism and inequality have been established.”
  • National Chauvinism. Here again, Martin explains the point succinctly: “In the area of France’s African policy, such xenophobia takes the form of a deep suspicion of the motives and actions of the other foreign powers in Africa, especially in francophone Africa which France considers to be her natural preserve, off-limits to the United States, Great Britain, or the Soviet Union. Thus, France’s African policy is primarily motivated by her own conception of her national interest in the political, strategic, economic, or cultural fields.3 Although disguised under the label of ‘co-operation’, France’s African policy is, in fact, motivated by strictly nationalistic considerations and blatantly disregards African concerns and interests.”
  • Hypocrisy. Here Martin is speaking of the gap – the French word “gouffre” would be more accurate – between the idealistic sounding rhetoric of the French government and its actions – ie, support of coups, assassinations, military interventions which continue non-stop a half century after independence
  • Continuity – the fact that in its essence, French African policy has been predictably consistent under the surface. Although faces change, styles of political rule vary (from dictatorship to multi-party systems) the underlying fundamentals remain “transcending the traditional political cleavages, the various regimes and individual political leaders…In the final analysis, it seems that it is indeed the permanence of these economic, political, and strategic interests which account for such remarkable continuity”

Underlying these basic characteristics of French policy are economic considerations. Successive French governments deny the vital nature of its African relations. But this is poppycock really, the stuff for popular mythology, little more. Again, Martin counters:

“The truth of the matter is that Africa plays a vital economic role for France as a source of raw materials, as a market for her manufactured goods and technology, and as an outlet for her capital investment. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that ‘in the short-term, France’s economic and social equilibrium depends on her control over Africa.”

Such is the system that Jacques Foccart helped Charles De Gaulle establish in Africa and which every French administration since has tenaciously clung to. Without its African connection, France would be an even more minor play internationally than it is today.

Sylvanus Olympio, first president of Independent Togo – assassinated with French complicity

Foccart Parle (Foccart Speaks…but what does he say?)

Over the years, the latter part of the 20th century, different exposes on Foccart’s Africa shenanigans and connections, his involvement in the many political and financial machinations to protect French economic interests in Africa appeared in the French (and other) press where a portrait of the man as a kind of Darth Vader, French Henry Kissinger implicated him in many assassinations and coups against those challenging French power. These allegations came from African commentators and researchers, as well as, over the years, a growing number of French journalists. Foccart was also described as a mastermind – if not the mastermind – of complex financial flows that would enrich both French politicians and corporate interests as well as the African upper strata that was key to French economic exploitation of the continent.

By the early 1990s, not long before Foccart’s death in 1997, Foccart’s reputation had been damaged to such an extent that more than likely it was beyond repair. Still, in order to “clear the record” – or maybe simply to fog it up that much more, Foccart decided to break a lifetime of silence – and press avoidance – to come out of the shadows so to speak. Both the ways and the hows of the process remain a bit sketchy. As described in the prologue to Foccart Parle (Volume 1), the original idea came from Bechir Ben Yahmed, the long time publisher of Jeune Afrique, a magazine that has covered African (and North African) developments for more than half a century. Despite sharp stated political differences, Ben Yahmed had been meeting regularly with Foccart, monthly, for more than a decade. It was Ben Yahmed that convinced Foccart to go public and who introduced him to French journalist Philippe Gaillard, a French journalist, like Ben Yahmed, of left persuasion.

This is a curious combination, all of whom have been implicated as having connections to French intelligence. My speculation here – admittedly that is all it can be at this point – is that French intelligence felt a need to do something to clean up Foccart’s record – not so much for the man himself – as for the future of French interests in Africa. A series of interviews – which would then be censored by the French government – might be in order. Foccart was not only defending his record, but that of France in Africa. While whatever he claimed or denied over the course of the interviews could not be necessarily verified – the actual records of French colonial and post colonial politics in Africa remain sealed in a mammoth vault in Aix-en-Provence that will remained closed for a hundred years – Foccart’s spin on his African ventures could at least through some cold water on the most serious of the accusations.

His opponents couldn’t absolutely prove his guilt, and he could not absolutely prove his innocence…but at least the edge would be taken off, a bit of doubt would be added to what was by the 1990s a growing body of evidence and anecdotal material on the insidious and vicious role France had played – and was playing in Africa. Keep in mind, in the early 1990s, France’s Africa reputation only got worse – with the dirty war in Algeria moving ahead full steam, in which French intelligence was accused of conniving closely with the Algerian intelligence agencies in furthering – if not instigation a decade of violence. Worse, although to this day, France has tried to deny its role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, even then, a body of evidence was coming together documenting French complicity for the Hutu-led slaughter of some 800,000 to a million Rwandans – of either Tutsi or mixed origins. Taken within this context, Foccart’s recorded memoirs become a kind of public counter-offensive, an attempt to restore a bit of dignity, or to put a bit of make up on the corpse that has been the sorry record of French intervention in and exploitation of Africa.

Burkinese celebrate after embattled Pres…Burkinese celebrate after embattled President Blaise Compaore announced that he was stepping down in Ouagadougou on October 31, 2014. Compaore announced that he was stepping down to make way for elections after a violent uprising against his 27-year rule.  AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGOISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Not Memoirs, But Interviews…

Rather than write his own memoirs, which might have put down in his own words, Foccart’s defense – and as such could have been more easily verified or deconstructed, Foccart – or his handlers – chose a series of interviews in their stead. By so doing Foccart distanced himself just enough from having to defend himself through the written word. We are already getting Foccart’s story filtered through the author, Philippe Gaillart. Although when Volume 1 first appears in 1995 these “memoirs” created something of a sensation, since Foccart had been so tight-lipped through his career – for the most part, they are not particularly revealing, from the viewpoint of exposing or embarrassing French Africa policy, essentially harmless.

There is virtually nothing in either volume on the heart and soul of French neo-colonial policies  – the secret economic and military treaties that different African leaders were forced to sign in exchange for aid and perks. What might have been new and interesting from the manuscripts were systematically purged at the request of the French government. (2) Thus several “highly compromising sections” of Volume 2 were cut out. He hardly ever reveals anything new concerning how French Africa policy worked, nor how he himself worked to implement those policies that was not already in the public record on way or another. When he does give us a bit of reality, often as in his description of the French role in support of the Biafra separatist movement – a subject Foccart is willing to go into in some detail – it is not new news – others have already mined the subject.

The interviews on African politics follow a certain pattern – there is a great deal about the personalities of different African leaders in close tandem with France – Houphouët Boigny, Bongo, Campaoré, Ahidjo, Senghor – Foccart’s little African coterie – are described in some detail. In a similar vein he elaborates on their relations with one another and as he tries – like the good neo-colonial paternalist he was – to smooth over those tensions. But when it comes to the main themes of France’s Africa policy – mineral extraction, control of regional raw material be they energy related (uranium, oil) or other commodities, strategic competition with UK, USA over control of those resources, there is virtually nothing other than an occasional shallow reference.

As noted in a review by Claude Wauthier that appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique (April, 1995) at the time Foccart Parle (Volume 1) was published , “More often than not he (Foccart) is evasive, ducking answers to questions about the coups attributed to him.” When asked about his role in the 1960 thallium poisoning of Cameroonian rebel leader Félix Moumié in Geneva, Foccart abuptly answers “Your question is answered in the archives,” – archives that will remained closed for a century. Was he involved in the in the kidnapping and assassination of Moroccan opposition leader, Mehdi Ben Barka? He responds with a one word “no.” His answers to questions about the many French-engineered African coups are just as evasive. He was out fishing at the time, was unaware until the aftermath, etc. At least from the printed text, there is no – or hardly any – indication that the interviewer/author, Philippe Gaillard, insisted on any follow-up questions that might have challenged the veracity of Foccart’s answers.

If anything, Foccart Speaks, is a good springboard for how France hasn’t conducted its Africa policy since World War II be it concerning Mali, Chad, Congo, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Togo. Read Foccart and then explore what really happened. Not a nice story…as my mother used to say.

____________

Notes.

  1. Guy Martin. “The Historical, Economic and Political Basis of France’s Africa Policy.” Journal of Modern African Studies: Vol. 23, No. 2 (Jun., 1985), pp. 189-208
  2. Victor T. LeVine. Politics in Francophone Africa. Lynne Rienner Publications. 2004. ISBN: 1-58826-249-9. p. 354. Footnote 5. It is possible that more of Foccart’s comments were purged,  not just two.

 

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