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Opinions of Saturday, 29 December 2001

Columnist: Adu-Asare, R. Y

Upgrading Franco-Ghana Relations: Is it Worth the Tango?

What appears to be Ghana’s upgraded love affair with France merits serious national discussion. The void of substantive discussions on the current status of Franco-Ghana relations has been filled by a section of the press in a manner that raises more concern about the paucity of reportage than expected outcomes of Pres. John Agyekum Kufuor’s recent visit to France.

On reading some of the Ghanaian online publications one is left to wonder whether the writers are reporting the news or acting as propaganda mouthpiece for France’s inroads to non-French speaking Africa. Some of the press reports on Kufuor’s visit to France read as if Ghana’s relations with the former colonial power today qualify as the next best event since decolonization of Africa.

For instance, The Accra Mail newspaper of Nov. 28, 2001, indicated, “France has supported Ghana since independence. The President’s visit to France is expected to solidify the good relations that have existed between the two countries since then.” Factually, there is no truth to this view of Franco-Ghana relations, since independence.

Throughout the news report cited above, the writer commits a cardinal professional crime by failing to provide sources and attributions. It is the type of journalistic practice that mirrors the work of stenographers who take notes from their bosses for verbatim transcription.

In actuality, after Ghana’s independence in 1957, Pres. Kwame Nkrumah became France’s nightmare nemesis on the African continent. Ghana’s independence opened the eyes of French colonies to the idea of independence. Nkrumah made no secret of his willingness to assist all colonized African societies in their struggle for political freedom.

Post-colonial Ghana and its feisty president suffered the ire of France’s might with spillover effects on its colonies.

Nkrumah challenged France over its decision to test nuclear bombs on the Sahara desert that it claimed to be part of its colonial holdings on the continent. Nkrumah threatened to place human bodies on the Sahara desert and dared France to bomb them.

Nkrumah never missed a beat in highlighting France’s role in the “Balkanization of Africa” indicated by the splitting of post-colonial Africa into European spheres of influence. Despite Nkrumah’s effort of unwarranted European cultural and political influences, post-colonial Africa, today, suffers from what can be described as the “phoning” of Africa as in Francophone, Lusophone or Anglophone.

Nkrumah lumped all the European major and minor powers with imperial interests in the African continent as neo-colonialists to the consternation of Pres. Charles de Gaulle, one of the architects of the Fifth Republic of France. De Gaulle expressed extreme contempt for Ghanaians as do-nothings whose only passion was for soccer, flag waving and the worshipping of Kwame Nkrumah. On what basis can any reporter view Ghana’s relations with France as “good”, since independence, except to defy the logic of history.

Students of international relations, as an academic discipline, have assessed that in the making of foreign policy, what matters to decision-makers must be the national interest of their society. They believe also that in the relations among nations there are no permanent friends, but permanent interests. In this regard, it would be fair to assume that the current status of Franco-Ghana relations is an attempt by both nations to craft a new friendship. On the basis of this assumption, it should be fair, equally, to identify what Ghana’s interests ought to be in the new relations with France.

Because of the need to capture the primacy and supremacy of national interest, foreign policy experts caution decision-makers to approach their work with extreme science-based prudence to achieve maximum benefit. What, then, must be Ghana’s supreme national interest in the theater of the new relations with France? The choice is Ghana’s to make, depending on who defines its national interest.

France’s record in Africa, as a post-colonial power, is not one that should attract Ghana’s unfettered relations with it. France’s inability to accomplish its residual colonial responsibility was underscored recently in Washington, D.C. by its Minister of Health, Dr. Bernard Kouchner. As part of his keynote address at a conference focusing on the fight against AIDS in Africa on Dec. 12, 2001, Dr. Kouchner said, “France has been engaged in development since beginning of the Twentieth Century, without positive results.”

Reacting to Kufuor’s recent visit to France, at the invitation of French President Jacque Chirac, SOKPO SALI, a registered user on the popular Ghanaweb.com forum, Friday, Nov. 30, 2001, asked, “What type of help can France avail to Ghana that she had already given to her numerous Francophone countries in the sub-region [of West Africa]”? Among other concerns and comments, the former asked again, “Could it be France had sucked/milked its former colonies dry, and realizing that Ghana is in dire straits, a la HIPC, they want to take advantage?”

In the renewed relations with France, what Ghana wants and needs and what it gets, may not be co-incidental. Similarly, what France expects from its relations with Ghana may not be consistent with expectations, leaving room for speculation, education and analyses of varying degrees. However, there are some few ideas regarding what France’s new interests in Ghana, particularly and Africa, in general, could be, bordering on both cynicism and reality.

In the area of France’s new health initiative in Africa, Dr. Kouchner pointed out the need for stressing effect of the AIDS on the continent “because of its implications for all humanity.” In deed, AIDS is a borderless pandemic; stopping its spread in Africa goes a long way in preventing spillover effects into Europe. Here, one sees France addressing, strategically, a case of common interest.

To understand the conditions and contradictions associated with France’s position in Africa, it is quite interesting to read news headlines and comments from active sources that pay attention to such matters. In an article titled, “France Loses Grip on Africa’s Spoils: The Collapse of Mobutu Sese Seko’s Control in Zaire has Highlighted Declining French Influence,” reporters of British newspaper The Mail & Guardian, Dec. 13, 1996, wrote, “France, more than any former colonial power, has maintained ties that bind Africa. It props up regional currencies and economies in return for markets and investment. But the relationship also helps France to maintain its self-perception as a major power, especially at the United Nations.”

Continuing in the story cited above, reporters Chris McGreal and David Harrison, wrote: “Underscoring French resolve that its former colonies should remain loyal is a deep-seated fear of the spread of Anglo-Saxon culture. But Chirac appears to have recognized that the days of French unilateral intervention in Africa are over.”

While others are said to have “deep-seated fear of the spread of Anglo-Saxon culture” in Africa, it appears from Ghanaian newspaper reports that the country has been propped up to embrace French cultural initiatives without questioning any motives. A story on Ghanaweb.com of Nov. 29, 2001, attributed to Kojo Sam, indicated, “France is the only country implementing a comprehensive cultural exchange program with Ghana.”

Kojo Sam wrote also, “France is also spending 3.4 million Euros for the promotion of cultural, scientific and technical co-operation this year and this will be increased to 6.2 million Euros.” Not only did the writer fail to provide the source of his information, he did not mention whose culture France’s money is intended to promote in Ghana. Given the glee with which the Ghanaian press mentions French schools and the study of French language in Ghana, it appears immersion of the whole country into French culture is a fait accompli.

While Ghanaians have been busy studying French, their foreign minister was taken to the carpet recently for contravening an unwritten rule for, allegedly, speaking a Ghanaian language to a group of citizens in Canada.

Sections of the Ghanaian press write with adulation about the fact that the country’s ambassador to France speaks fluent French. Besides, there is speculation in the Ghanaian press that Hon. Nana Akuffo-Addo, Ghana’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice is under consideration for the position of Foreign Minister because he had some education in France and speaks fluent French. Holala!

In an AFP story titled, “Accra Aims to Firm up Ties with France,” posted on Ghanaweb.com of Nov. 28, 2001, the reporter wrote, “A government official said that Kufuor was upbeat about the trip,” to France. SOKPO SALI on Ghanaweb.com’s Forum, cautioned Pres. Kufuor to “limit his consumption of French wine while in the French capital.” SALI did not provide the basis for his caution, one can assume though, that since wine and French culture go together, consuming plenty of it could hasten assimilation into “Francaise autre mel” which Ghana does not need; pardon moi!

One final point, most observers of the African scene believe that France sees United States’ increasing influence in Africa as a threat to its global power calculation. As a result, France has started playing the game of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” by seeking collaboration with United States in some foreign policy initiatives on the African continent.

On Dec. 24, 1997, online “BBC News Analysis” on Africa had the headline, “Africa: US and France Vie for Influence.” The lead of the analyst’s text read, “France and the United States have both announced new policies towards Africa this month, after a year of bitter rivalry for influence.”

On March 23, 1998, online “BBC News” on Africa was headlined, “France no Longer Battling US Over Africa.” That news story had the following lead, “In embarking on a high-profile tour of Africa, President Clinton is asserting the United States’ interest in a part of the world which France has long viewed as its own sphere of influence.”

According to the story cited above, “Officials in Paris are usually quick to describe any American initiative in Africa as an attempt to throw the French out, but Mr. Clinton’s trip has not drawn such criticism from France.” Is there an implication, here, that the two powers may be ganging up to split the spoils of Africa? Brace yourselves, all ye poor Africans!

Please submit all comments and questions to: asare@erols.com