French President Emmanuel Macron faced a social media backlash for suggesting during the recent G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, that Africa’s challenges were “civilizational” and that providing financial aid would be pointless when there are countries where women were giving birth to seven or eight children.
The remarks were made after a reporter from Ivory Coast asked France’s newly elected president how many G20 countries are ready to put money in an envelope, or a Marshall Plan, “to save Africa,” and how much France would contribute.
Instantly, Macron said he does not believe in such kind of reasoning.
“The challenge of Africa is totally different, and a lot more profound, it’s civilizational today,” Macron said, explaining that Africa’s problems include failed states, complex democratic transitions, as well as the demographic transition which is one of the continent’s essential challenges.
The four-year Marshall Plan – or the European Recovery Program (ERP) – was an American initiative to aid Western Europe, in which the US gave over $13 billion (reportedly nearly $150 billion in current dollar value) in economic support to help rebuild Western Europe after the Second World War.
Macron insisted on fighting corruption, enhancing good governance and the demographic transition, as some of the solutions for Africa’s problems.
But many, including Prof. Déo Byanafashe, a senior history professor at the University of Rwanda, see things differently.
He suggests that civilizational problems are not Africa’s alone and, besides, most of the continent’s challenges today have deep roots in imperialism and colonialism and how the latter injured the continent.
“The civilizational problem evoked by Macron is not at all particular to Africa; political, economic, social and cultural problems in countries are civilizational,” Byanafashe said.
“Challenges like trafficking, corruption, weak states, and demographic transition are inherited from Colonial Imperialism which in the search of minerals and markets brought slavery and underdevelopment”.
Imperialism, a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or other means, peaked in the 19th century as European powers – including France – extended their holdings around the world.
Bernard Rutikanga, another academic who he has taught African History for more than 30 years, pointed out that according to the book by Walter Rodney, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” some African countries in the pre-colonial period had achieved much in sociopolitical and economic development and were still evolving positively before disaster struck.
In his 1972 book, Rodney, a prominent Guyanese historian, political activist and scholar, who was assassinated in 1980, takes the view that Africa was deliberately exploited and underdeveloped by European colonialists.
“Then external negative forces struck; slave trade, colonialism, and neocolonialism. All these unleashed total destruction of independent African development, exploitation of our natural and human resources, and destroying our political, social and economic initiatives,” Rutikanga said.
He added that colonialism left the continent with time bombs of ethnic conflicts, neocolonial institutions, structures and [bad] politics which former colonial powers have continued to promote over the years.
Prof. Herman Musahara, a Rwandan economist with more than 30 years’ experience as an academic, researcher and consultant, observes that Africa has for long been looked down upon as uncivilized dark and backward.
He primarily does not speak well of France’s assimilation policy where Africans, including Senegalese poet, writer, and statesman Léopold Sédar Senghor, were made French citizens and African states were supposed to become overseas foreign territories. Senghor, the first president of Senegal, was indoctrinated with the French colonial policy of assimilation.
“Most decisions in Francophone governments were made in Paris and leaders were pre-selected by Champs-Élysées,” the economist noted.
Considering the new French leader’s remarks at the G20 Summit, Musahara observes that it now seems the latter imperialistic outlook is still prevalent even in the highest levels of French leadership.
“Civilization and fertility rates are two separate things,” Musahara said. “Reducing the number of children an African woman gives forth would not make Africa civilized pronto.”
In an era where a certain school of thought believes that a burgeoning population provides a huge opportunity to further raise African prosperity, Macron’s take on continent’s “demographic transition,” is also challenged.
The French president’s remarks, Musahara suggested, bypass the historical plunder and exploitation of Africa by France and the latter’s unsuccessful interference in African politics.
“It does not recognize the potential of African population to exploit vast African potential; the potential of the demographic dividend. Africa will have the most youthful population globally by the turn of the century,” Musahara said.
“The challenge will be to harness its vast resources. Until now the problem is more on inequitable global economic arrangements regressive on Africa than how many children. If the fertility rate is a measure of civilization then China by default and policy is the most civilized.”
Marshall Plan won’t help Africa
According to Rutikanga, a Marshall Plan “won’t help Africa” as long as neocolonial forces are manipulating the continent, and they devise new strategies as years elapse.
“The best way is for Africans to work together in fighting for our interests, to protect ourselves from Western unbalanced economic dealings, and to uproot colonial and neocolonial legacies,” Rutikanga said.
Distinguished Tanzanian industrialist Ali Mufuruki is not surprised by the French president’s remarks about Africa. And, to an extent, he finds fault with Africans too.
“I really don’t understand the outrage of Africans and their so called Africa lovers following Macron’s statement of a fact. But then it is typical and expected, or isn’t it?” Mufuruki posed.
He told Sunday Times that the fact that an African reporter had to ask why was there no Marshall Plan for Africa, in 2017, more than half a century after most of the African countries “attained political independence,” is in itself proof of the civilizational problem the French President was alluding to.
“Why indeed should there be a Marshall Plan for Africa? Why do Africans believe that the world and in particular their former colonial masters, owe them a living? And if it is true they do and we depend on their goodwill to move ahead with our development, how can we claim to be free people?”
By placing their former “colonial abusers on a higher pedestal as masters of our destiny,” Mufuruki suggested, Africans are undermining their own claim for equality as human beings.
He added: “And why are we surprised then by a slur from a person like Emmanuel Macron if indeed that is what it was? What has he said that is new? Haven’t we seen and heard worse before?”
Mufuruki noted that there are French people walking the streets of Abidjan [capital of Ivory Coast] “this moment” who say and do worse things to Africans, causing more pain than Macron’s words can ever do.
“Who lets them get away with it? Africans of course! I really think we need to get a hold on our emotions, stop being victims and take charge of our lives. The sooner we do that the better.”
Dr. Christopher Kayumba, a political analyst and a lecturer at the University of Rwanda, among others, opined that “Macron doesn’t seem to understand some drivers of [having] many children.”
Furthermore, he finds it “totally insulting and demeaning” for Macron to say Africa’s problem is civilizational. But it is not surprising, he said.
According to him, it is the same kind of thinking and theology that European powers, including France, used to justify colonization; “that’s that Africa needed to be civilized by the West and that [is] why some argued colonialism was a white man’s burden and therefore done in the interests of Africans.”
Kayumba said Macron still harbours colonial tendencies and believes French people have a superior civilization than Africans; which is “unfortunate.”
French civilization has never been and will never be superior to Africa’s, or Rwanda’s, Kayumba said.
“In my view, Africa needs no Marshal Plan and in fact, I believe Africa would be better off without aid.”