15 Oct 2013

A chance for Nigeria and SA to upstage Pax Gallica

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 278: A chance for Nigeria and SA to upstage Pax Gallica / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
15 October 2013

'Despite its continued delusions of grandeur, France can no longer afford to pay for its imperial role in African alone'

French President François Hollande is visiting South Africa this week in a bid to smooth tension in the contest for influence in Africa. France and South Africa, along with Nigeria, are all countries with an inflated sense of their own importance. All three have engaged in a "politics of grandeur" that sometimes exaggerates style over substance. It is therefore important to assess the role of the three hegemons in Africa.

A hegemon is a state that has the ability and legitimacy to dominate its sphere of influence with the consent of other states and seeks to provide security and prosperity as often self-interested public goods. Historically, Paris supported South Africa's apartheid regime and challenged Pax Nigeriana's quest for leadership in Africa. France acted as an African power and continues to exert its influence, particularly in Francophone Africa.

After the Cold War, the liberation of South Africa introduced another rival to Nigeria's leadership role. South Africa's membership of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) grouping and Group of 20 major economies has given it global prestige. This prestige has, however, not translated into continental dominance, and Pax South Africana continues to struggle with issues of political legitimacy in Africa. Its efforts to pursue economic and political interests in the Central African Republic (CAR) were challenged by the French military and economic presence in the country. Both South Africa and Nigeria also continue to struggle with domestic socioeconomic and security challenges, while France continues to use its historical military presence and economic clout in Africa to promote Pax Gallica.

Both Nigeria and France suffer from a nostalgic longing for past glory that often exposes their pretensions to be Great Powers. Both have citizens with a sense of fashion, good food and joie de vivre. Both are, however, competing on their respective continents with regional hegemons, who appear to have more influence than them. South Africa and Germany, not Nigeria and France, have the largest economies in Africa and Europe respectively. But South Africa and Nigeria's geostrategic position is weaker than France's in one key aspect. France is one of five veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a club to which Germany does not belong. This has given France not just regional, but — sometimes in African cases — global clout. France is, however, not a Great Power globally, but an African power. It is only in Africa that France wields such influence.

France has been more successful than South Africa and Nigeria at exerting its hegemony in its Francophone sphere of influence in Africa due to nearly a century of colonial rule during which it entrenched cultural, political and economic dominance particularly over the elites of Francophone Africa. Paris has maintained military bases across Africa and intervened more than 50 times since 1960 to prop up or depose assorted autocrats. Thirteen Francophone African states tied their currencies to the French franc, with Paris in effect controlling the zone's central banks and the French Treasury holding all of their foreign reserves. French industrial giants continue to monopolise Francophone African markets, while Paris has preserved priority access to strategic minerals such as uranium, bauxite and oil. In contrast, neither Pax South Africana nor Pax Nigeriana have been able to leave a lasting political and cultural influence on their subregions.

In the CAR, in which France and South Africa had rival mineral interests, France outmanoeuvred South Africa using Francophone regional states such as Chad, while the disastrous killing of 14 South African troops forced its withdrawal from the country in April in a subregion it did not really understand. South Africa had earlier faced French obstructionism in its peacemaking efforts in Francophone Côte d'Ivoire and Madagascar, and later accused France of seeking to prevent the successful election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as chairwoman of the African Union Commission. Tension was also evident between South Africa and Nigeria in tackling the conflicts in Côte d'Ivoire and Libya in 2011. Nigeria and France also clashed in Mali, with Paris using its clout with Francophone Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire in mediation efforts and on the UN Security Council to frustrate Nigerian influence.

"Constructive" hegemons often exercise "soft power" to persuade rather than coerce other states to accept their leadership through acquiescence and socialisation of elites. France has educated African political and military elites at its schools for more than 60 years. It uses regular Franco-African summits to build political solidarity with the 22 Francophone African states, which often act as voting cattle at multilateral forums in support of French interests. France also uses cultural resources through the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.

Both South Africa and Nigeria likewise continue to educate elites from other African states at their universities. Nigeria's film industry — "Nollywood" — is a veritable source of "soft power" that could be a cultural resource to challenge French artistic hegemony in Africa. "Nollywood" has expanded African culture across the continent and created an authentically pan-African cinema. World-class Nigerian footballers in European leagues also play a similar role. Renowned writers such as Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri and Ngozi Adichie; the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti's Broadway musical; as well as singers such as Seal, Sade, and Asa, are also signs of the country's "soft power". South Africa has similarly spread its "soft power" through Nobel literature laureates Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee and Nobel peace laureates Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk. South Africa successfully organised Africa's first Fifa World Cup in 2010; its first Rugby World Cup in 1995; and is a magnet for tourists from Africa and around the world. South Africa's ubiquitous fast-food chains, such as Steers and Spur, as well as its export of a US-style "mall culture" across Africa — and the world, in the case of Nando's and SABMiller — are further signs of the country's "soft power".

An important aspect of hegemony is a "gatekeeping" role in which regional gatekeepers seek to fence off their region and keep external powers out of their issues. Could South Africa and Nigeria, in future, formulate a continental "Monroe Doctrine" that keeps France out of Africa? Both African powers appear to be starting to collaborate more closely in response to continuing Gallic influence in countries such as Mali and the CAR. They would, however, need to work with other important African states, such as the North African hegemon, Algeria, which shares a similar antipathy to French interventionism, and which South Africa's President Jacob Zuma visited in March.

As French economic support to its former colonies declines, there may be an opportunity for Pax South Africana and Pax Nigeriana to upstage Pax Gallica. France's economy is sickly, even as its military spending has been reduced.

This has forced it to multilateralise its past neocolonial interventions through UN and European Union missions.

France has cut its military from 88,000 to 66,000, and frozen its defence budget. Despite its continued delusions of grandeur, France can, in fact, no longer afford to pay for its imperial role in Africa on its own.

Like South Africa and Nigeria, this gendarme is also an invalid.

Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution and author of The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War

This article was also published in The Guardian (Nigeria) on 29 October 2013

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