French President Emmanuel Macron’s remarks that he pressured Cameroon’s President Paul Biya to release an opposition leader is a sign the European power still has a colonial attitude towards its former African colonies, according to one Catholic priest.
On Feb. 22, a video went viral on social media showing the French president telling a Cameroonian activist in Paris that he had pressured Biya to release opposition leader, Maurice Kamto from jail.
Kamto was released in October last year after spending nine months in jail in connection with post-election protests. He claimed he was the actual winner of the October 2018 presidential election and led protests when the Constitutional Council gave the victory to Biya, who has been president since 1982.
“I told Biya we must not meet in Lyon if Kamto is not released. He (Kamto) was freed because we put pressure,” Macron told the activist.
Macron said he was aware of the violence going on in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions and called on his Cameroonian counterpart to quickly “resolve the Anglophone problem, open up the democratic space, release all political prisoners, decentralize and respect human rights.”
He went ahead to say that he would make a phone call to Biya to force him to release all other political prisoners in the country.
Father Roman Kisi of Missaje in Cameroon’s North-West region told Crux that Macron’s statements were condescending and showed a continuing colonial attitude towards Cameroon.
“My interpretation of Macron’s statement is that he is responsible for all the chaos in Cameroon because if he has ordered Kamto’s release and is now pressuring President Biya to release other political prisoners, it means that African leaders like Paul Biya are stooges,” he told Crux.
“It was a very negative statement,” he said.
The priest then criticized France’s role in Africa, accusing Cameroon’s former colonial master of exploiting the continent’s resources, and leaving behind a trail of poverty and want.
“When you read the newspapers, you see that France is the largest exporter of tropical wood,” the priest said.
“France is not in the tropics and should never be the highest exporter of tropical timber,” he added.
Kisi said France’s former African colonies can only become fully independent if they take control over their political, educational and economic systems.
“We are still a colonized people … we in Cameroon and all French-speaking African countries,” he said.
Both France and Britain went through a post-World War II decolonization process, but France has remained more intimately linked with its former African possessions, with a history of propping up regimes with French military might and exerting financial control through the CFA Franc, currencies used in 14 countries.
Not only is the CFA guaranteed by the French treasury, but about 50 per cent of the foreign earnings of those countries are also lodged in what is known as an “Operational Account” in the French Treasury.
“If you read widely, you will discover that amongst African countries with a high standard of living, there is none that uses the [CFA Franc],” Kisi told Crux.
He said when France left Africa, it also left behind an education system that is not based on science and technology, and therefore cannot allow its former colonies to fully develop.
“So in my opinion, the francophone African countries in both the CEMAC (the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States) and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) zones should dump the CFA and we shall emerge. We can’t compete with Nigeria – they have their own separate currency. We can’t compete with our East African neighbours because they have their cedes, the shilling, the kwacha etc … so they stand a better chance of marketing their money. What happens in the French former colonial territories? Their continued use of the CFA Franc is not in their best economic interests.”
Many economists agree that it’s time to dump that currency.
“I don’t see how a country, or a group of countries, can grow economically when they have no mastery over their monetary policies,” Bruno Bekolo Ebe, Professor of Economics at the University of Douala told Crux.
“It is time the countries using the CFA do away with that currency. They may maintain the name, but the links it has with the French Treasury need to be severed.”
Macron’s recent comments caused dozens of demonstrators to protest in front of the French Embassy on Monday, with one protestor saying the French president’s comments were “condescending.”
“France has no lessons to give Cameroon and Macron must apologize for insinuating that our president is his stooge,” said Amos Nkong, one of those present.
“President Biya does not need Macron or any foreign leader to tell him what to do,” he told Crux.
Cardinal Christian Tumi, the archbishop emeritus of Douala, has even accused France of seeking to make sure the majority French-speaking Cameroonians assimilate the minority English-speaking population.
He told Crux in 2017 the French policy was at the root of the ongoing Anglophone crisis currently affecting the country’s English-speaking regions.
“What is creating the whole problem is the presence of France in Cameroon. Whereas the English people left … they packed their boxes and everything and went away, Cameroon is controlled by France. That’s the problem,” Tumi said.