French ex-colonies owed an apol­ogy

Arab News - - Opinion - RAMZY BAROUD

Last week’s visit to France by Tu­nisian Pres­i­dent Kais Saied was in­tended to dis­cuss bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, trade, etc. But it was also a missed op­por­tu­nity, where Tu­nisia could have for­mally de­manded an apol­ogy for the decades of French colo­nial­ism, which shat­tered the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal fab­ric of this North African Arab na­tion from the late 19th cen­tury un­til in­de­pen­dence in 1956 and even be­yond.

Rav­aged by a re­lent­less eco­nomic crisis and still largely de­pen­dent on France as a fore­most trade part­ner, Tu­nisia fears the con­se­quences of such a just de­mand, which, if of­fi­cially made, would also in­clude a call for com­pen­sa­tion.

A par­tic­u­lar state­ment made by Osama Khe­lifi, of the Qalb Tounes party, de­lin­eates the un­for­tu­nate re­al­ity that con­tin­ues to gov­ern the think­ing of Tu­nisia’s po­lit­i­cal elites. “We are not going to feed Tu­nisians with such mo­tions,” he said. But com­ing to terms with the past is a pre­req­ui­site for any na­tion that wishes to start anew. What would be the point of rev­o­lu­tions and revo­lu­tion­ary dis­courses if Tu­nisian politi­cians in­sisted on merely try­ing to get along with a sta­tus quo im­posed on them by out­side forces? While Saied was pay­ing his diplo­matic dues to Paris, stat­ues were tum­bling down across the Western world. On June 7, a statue of Ed­ward Col­ston, a 17th cen­tury slave trader, was pulled down by pro­test­ers in the English city of Bris­tol. How­ever, across the English Chan­nel, the French gov­ern­ment re­mained ob­sti­nate in its re­fusal to take down any sim­i­lar stat­ues, as if in­sist­ing on its re­fusal to re­visit — let alone take re­spon­si­bil­ity for — its sin­is­ter past, es­pe­cially the bloody and tragic events that shat­tered the African con­ti­nent.

France’s po­lit­i­cal elites con­tinue to embrace French ex­cep­tion­al­ism, ar­gu­ing that, un­like the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence with race and slav­ery, French law was never, at any point in the past, pur­posely racist.

Un­like other Euro­pean ex­pe­ri­ences, the French colo­nial con­nec­tion to Africa did not dis­in­te­grate en­tirely in the 20th cen­tury. In­stead, it took on dif­fer­ent forms, now known by the dis­parag­ing term “Fran­cafrique.” This ex­pres­sion was in­tro­duced in 1955 to de­scribe the “spe­cial re­la­tions” be­tween France and the newly in­de­pen­dent African coun­tries, which be­came bound under what France called “co­op­er­a­tion agree­ments.” It was rightly un­der­stood that France was en­ter­ing a new phase of colo­nial­ism in Africa: Neo­colo­nial­ism. To ap­pre­ci­ate French neo­colo­nial­ism in Africa, con­sider this: Four­teen African coun­tries are still eco­nom­i­cally bound to France through the use of a spe­cial cur­rency, the CFA franc, which was de­signed by Paris to man­age the trade and economies of its former colonies. This jar­ring ex­am­ple of French neo­colo­nial­ism in Africa is con­sis­tent with its colo­nial and racist past.

Whether France chooses to come to terms with its past is en­tirely a French affair. It is, how­ever, the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Tu­nisia — and the whole of Africa — to con­front France and other colo­nial and neo­colo­nial regimes, not merely de­mand­ing apolo­gies and com­pen­sa­tion, but also in­sist­ing on a com­plete change of the present, un­equal re­la­tions too.

Ramzy Baroud is a jour­nal­ist, au­thor and ed­i­tor of the Pales­tine Chron­i­cle. Twit­ter: @RamzyBarou­d

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