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The French are failing in Africa

Celebrating the coup in Libreville, Gabon. AFP/Getty

Another African nation, Gabon, has fallen into the hands of “military power grabbers” this week, says Le Monde. It’s the latest in a series of coups in Francophone Africa, which have badly shaken the “Françafrique” influence system Paris uses to exert power over its former colonies. Gabon’s overthrown president, Ali Bongo, is the son of Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for 41 years “after being directly selected and supported by France”. Ali has since triumphed in three “questionable” elections, and Paris continually turned a blind eye to his “corrupt and predatory regime”. Is it really a surprise that young demonstrators are giving “seditious soldiers a standing ovation”? And Gabon surely won’t be the last to fall. “In Cameroon, Congo and Togo, long-ruling potentates backed by France could suffer the same fate as Ali Bongo.”

The figures are damning for Paris, says The Economist. Since 2000, 16 of 24 successful coups in Africa have been in Francophone countries. In the past three years, the share is seven out of eight. This is probably in part because France maintains a more interventionist approach to its former colonies than Britain – keeping a military base in Gabon, for example. It contributes to a sense, “exploited by Russia”, that Paris “props up pliant and venal African elites at the expense of ordinary people”. The reality is much more complicated, of course. “But coups are hardly acts of subtlety.”