‘Down With France’: Former Colonies in Africa Demand a Reset

‘Down With France’: Former Colonies in Africa Demand a Reset

N Melo
by N Melo
April 17, 2022 0

‘Down With France’: Former Colonies in Africa Demand a Reset


Decades after independence, many African countries are increasingly troubled by the ongoing influence of their former colonial power.

BAMAKO, Mali — Many French guests came through the guesthouse where El Bachir Thiam worked as a security guard, a small oasis of greenery in busy Bamako, the capital of the West African country of Mali. They were friendly, usually, and he liked them.

But after he had welcomed them in, shown them to their rooms and reassured them that Bamako was safe, not the hotbed of terrorist activity it might seem from outside, he went back to his phone, where his activist WhatsApp groups were focused on one thing. Getting the French — their businesses, diplomats and thousands of troops — out of Mali.

Over the past few years there has been a sharp rise in criticism of France across its former colonies in Africa, rooted in a feeling that colonialist practices and paternalistic attitudes never really ended, and propelled by a tide of social media posts, radio shows, demonstrations and conversations on the street.

In Senegal, young people attending protests last year accused the president of being a puppet of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who is currently vying for a second term. They smashed the windows of French gas stations and set fire to French supermarkets.


In Burkina Faso, as a coup d’état unfolded in January, tailors tore up French flags and pieced the tricolors back together horizontally to make Russian ones.

In Niger last November, after protesters shouting “Down with France!” tried to block a French military convoy, the soldiers opened fire. They killed two people, the Nigerien government said.

‘Down With France’: Former Colonies in Africa Demand a Reset
‘Down With France’: Former Colonies in Africa Demand a Reset

Nearly half of the countries in Africa were at one time French colonies or protectorates. Six decades after most of them gained independence, young people like Mr. Thiam — born long after the colonial French departed — are driving this uprising, tapping into a wealth of online information that older generations, often less educated and literate, never had access to, and trying to use it to promote change. And their elders are paying attention.

“There’s a new awakening in sub-Saharan Africa that the world should know about,” said El Hadj Djitteye, a Malian analyst who recently founded a think tank, the Timbuktu Center for Strategic Studies on the Sahel. “If a foreign minister makes a speech today, there’s a group of young analysts that can look at it and say this paragraph is paternalist, that one is aggressive, this isn’t diplomacy.”


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