Gerard Prunier on ‘la francophonie’ under threat

I was pretty certain that my theory of the dangers of “the death-throes of la francophonie”, or perhaps, more modestly, “la francophonie under threat”, as described here yesterday, was not totally original.
Well, aujourd’hui I was just re-reading along in Gerard Prunier’s great 1995 work, The Rwandan crisis; History of a Genocide and I came across this seasoned French scholar’s take on the subject… Commenting on the military and political support that the Mitterand government gave to the virulently anti-Tutsi government in Rwanda during the four-year-long civil war against the Tutsi-led RPF that preceded– or perhaps, prefaced– the 1994 genocide, Prunier wrote of France’s relationship with the Habyarimana government:

    the casual observer imagining that money is the cement of the whole relationship would have the wrong impression. The cement is language and culture. Paris’ African backyard remains its backyard because all the [African] chicks cackle in French…

    Of course, the arch-enemy of this cosy relationship, the hissing snake in the Garden of Eden is the ‘Anglo-Saxon’, the modern reincarnation of ‘les anglais‘. Everybody in France knows that ‘les anglais‘ are among the worst enemies the French ever had…
    The notion of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is hazy yet it also has a deadly clarity… Of course, ‘Anglo-Saxons’ are usually white, but not always. President Yoweri Museveni, as we shall see, was definitely an incarnation of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ menace in its truest form: because an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is an English-speaker who threatens the French. (pp.103-4)

Museveni was/is the President of Uganda. Throughout the 1980s and until around 1996 he had been the RPF’s key strategic ally.
Here’s more from Prunier on the Anglo-Saxons and the relationship between la francophonie and France’s role in supporting both Habyarimana and then the far more openly genocidal Hutu leaders who followed him into office in April 1994. (He starts out with a quick sketch of the ‘traditional’ French attitudes that he is critiquing here):

    The Anglo-Saxons want our death– that is, our cultural death. They threaten our language and our way of life, and they plan our ultimate anglo-saxonisation. Look at our own children: they all wear base-ball caps with the visor turned backwards, they ride skateboards and they drink Coca-cola. This sounds absurd, but in fact it is both so deadly serious and so crazy at the same time that only humour can bridge the existential gap. The whole syndrome, which for the sake of convenience we could call the ‘Fashoda syndrome’, is still very much a part of French political thinking today. And it is the main reason–and practically the only one–why Paris intervened so quickly and so deeply in the growing Rwandese crisis.
    According to the Fashoda syndrome, the whole world is a cultural, political and economic battleground between France and the ‘Anglo-Saxons’. There is no possible peace, any lull in the confrontation is only tactical…
    From that point of view, the invasion of Rwanda on 1 October 1990 by a group of rebels coming from Uganda was a typical test-case–an obvious ‘Anglo-Saxon’ plot to destabilise one of ‘ours’, and one we needed to stop right away if we did not want to see a dangerous spread of the disease. The reaction had to be quick and unambiguous…
    This is how Paris found itself backing an ailing dictatorship in a tiny distant country producing only bananas and a declining coffee crop without even asking for political reform as a price for its support. This blind commitment was to have catastrophic conseuqneces because, as the situation radicalised, the Rwandese leadership kept believing that no matter what it did, French support would always be forthcoming. And it had no valid reason for believing otherwise. (pp.105-7)

So there we are, and Prunier even gives us a name for this phenomenon: the ‘Fashoda syndrome’, named after the otherwise obscure Sudanese village where in 1898 French forces seeking to create an east-west route across Africa for their empire met the British forces seeking to create their own north-south route across the continent; and the French backed down.
And then, 96 years later, Francophone sensibilities in the continent were still so lively that they led even the “socialist” government of Mitterand to act in a manner so deeply complicitous with the genocidaires in Rwanda.

11 thoughts on “Gerard Prunier on ‘la francophonie’ under threat

  1. Hmmm. Interesting theory, and it may also explain why France is intervening in Cote d’Ivoire and why it took so long to let go of Vanuatu (although, in the latter case, concern about the fate of French settlers may have played as large a part as fear that Britain would have more post-colonial influence). At the same time, I wouldn’t attribute France’s post-colonial policy solely to Fashoda syndrome; France is capable of very American-style hubris regarding its mission civilisatrice, and has consequently committed some American-style errors.

  2. I wouldn’t attribute France’s post-colonial policy solely to Fashoda syndrome; France is capable of very American-style hubris regarding its mission civilisatrice, and has consequently committed some American-style errors.
    I totally agree… On the other hand there IS a certain Francophone sensitivity in some significant cases… Did you read what I wrote on the earlier post about Lebanon?
    One interesting thng is that what I saw in Lebanon was, if you like, the “grassroots” dimension of it: all those Maronites suddenly very worried that their francophonie wasn’t so much use to them any more. (When I went to interview Bashir Gemayyel, he would frequently want to try out his English with me, or ask for help with the particular chapter in his English-language book he was having trouble with…) But what Prunier was describing was very much the view from the metropole there. We were looking at different facets of the phenomenon.

  3. Here is a comment I received from Prof. Roland Breton about French books on Rwanda (I had relayed it to scholars interested in language policies):
    Dear Daniel Tompkins,
    A new book has been published that gives far more details on the French
    Policy in Rwanda. It’s : “L’inavouable. La France au Rwanda” Paris, Les
    Ar

  4. Dan– interesting!
    Thanks so much for having pushed the investigation forward a little further, and eliciting that informative reaction from Prof. Breton.
    One thing I forgot to mention earlier is that “Museveni”, though it might sound like a fine, indigenous African name, is reportedly a moniker his family acquired from his father’s service in the “Seventh” brigade of the (British) King’s East African Rifles… (An interesting footnote on “language”.)

  5. “La Francophonie” is exactly in threat. France’s emperialism policies have been refused in Cote d’Ivoire.It is a vital necessity to the state of Cote d’Ivoire to reclaim a total independence from France in term of culture, economy, and policy. Since Cote d’ivoire has been under the”auspice” of France many Eburnians(Ivorians)have lost their core personality by neglecting their own mother tongue to accept and speak the langue of the “master”.But, today there is a new generation of Ivorians in particularly and Africans in general who are adopting a new concept of self-actualisation:the return to the source.Many students from Cote d’Ivoire decide to go study in the Anglo-Saxons countries USA and UK because they estime that France is not the right choice for them because France expose many hurdles for them when it comes to study and to easily integrate in the France society. I know from experience. Therefore, the francophonie is under threat because most of the french speaking countries in Africa are in an extreme economical, and political agony.
    Thank you,
    Nimman Nimba Guagonopleu,
    Ivorian student in USA
    Major:international business and trade.

Comments are closed.