/ 20 August 2023

Former French colonies are still paying a ‘colonial’ tax

French Banks Ahead Of Earnings
A portion of the African colonies' budget continues to flow to the French central bank under various names and categories. (Nathan Laine/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fourteen former French colonies in Africa pay a “colonial tax” amounting to about $500 billion. These countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.

These countries have a combined population of 174 million and a nominal total GDP of $196 billion, with a purchasing power parity GDP of $411 billion. France has halted its colonisation policy, but its economic colonisation of these African states persists. A portion of the colonies’ budget continues to flow to the French central bank under various names and categories.

This process allows France to appropriate about 85% of the former colonies’ annual income. As a result, African countries face financial difficulties, and have to borrow back their own money from the French central bank as debts. To reclaim their funds, African countries are limited to applying for no more than 20% of the transferred amount. If they seek a larger sum, it can be vetoed. France argues that it is the money it spent on buildings and infrastructure constructed more than a century ago. 

Any refusal by an African ruler to pay the colonial tax often leads to a coup.

Since the coup in Niger took place, many Western and African nations started to voice their concern regarding uranium and other resources imported from Niger, airspace closure and elongated fly time to and from some countries in different parts of Africa, threat of a second Great War in Africa and deterioration of the situation regarding terrorism.

Another concern is about the oil and gas pipeline projects that cross the Nigerien territory or start there. These are the Niger-Benin oil pipeline, the Niger-Chad oil pipeline (that connects to the Chad-Cameroon pipeline) and Trans-Saharan gas pipeline. Ecowas and Western nations were the first to voice their concerns about the fate of these projects. But, just as is the case with uranium — which continues to be exported from Niger and companies like Orano proceed with their work in the republic — the situation with pipelines remains the same no matter the coup.

With the Niger-Benin pipeline everything is clear. The Benin government itself said Niger-Benin oil pipeline is not affected by sanctions, the project was not abandoned and is still under construction. The most recent news indicates that the pipeline is 75% complete and should be finished soon. 

The situation with Niger-Chad and Trans-Saharan pipelines is different. Many Western outlets said these projects are under threat of being cancelled. Which is odd, because even before the coup the fate of these projects was a mystery.

The Niger-Chad pipeline is presumed to be shelved, because there has been no news since 2019. And in 2019 Chad authorities said the project was probably stopped in favour of the Niger-Benin pipeline. The official explanation given for the project’s “cancellation” was concerns about attacks by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad area.

The idea of the Trans-Saharan pipeline was first proposed in the 1970s. In the 2000s, preparations to build it began.The latest news is from the autumn of 2022 regarding the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Nigeria, Niger and Algeria. So the project was quite vague even before the coup and there’s no confirmation of it being cancelled.

These “concerns” about the pipeline projects are just another attempt to pressure Niger’s military authorities to take a more favourable position to bargain for better terms. This is similar to their concerns about the health of the toppled president, Mohamed Bazoum. 

The ultimatum issued to the military of Niger by Ecowas has expired. These countries demanded that by no later than Sunday, 6 August the military restore constitutional order and return Bazoum to power.

Algeria opposed the intervention. Algeria is not a member of Ecowas, but the country’s president stressed that without Algeria “there will be no solution” because it shares a 1 000km border with Niger and would be the main victim in the event of a military operation.

“Algeria will not use force against a neighbouring state,” said President Abdelmadjid Tebbun. 

Ecowas has since opted for a diplomatic solution.

The president of neighbouring Nigeria advocated for the invasion, but he was unable to get permission from his Senate, who recommended that he first “consider other options”.

Mali and Burkina Faso, whose membership in Ecowas was suspended because of coups in those countries, warned that they would regard an invasion of Niger as an attack on themselves. This cooled Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire a little, which had expressed their readiness to send soldiers to Niger.

France suspended financial aid to Burkina Faso because the country supported rebels in Niger. 

The French foreign ministry announced its support for Ecowas’s efforts to restore Bazoum. Acting Deputy Secretary of State and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland’s visit to Niger ended in failure. She employed various tactics including appeals and promises, but primarily threats. These threats revolved around potential “Russian influence”, economic blockades, reduced “financial assistance”, and even the prospect of military intervention to topple the new government. 

Nuland was denied access to Bazoum and coup leader General Abdurrahman Ciani chose not to meet her. 

Western countries’ approach toward their “junior partners” has resulted in diminishing trust and an inability to impose their rules. 

Lessons from Mali and the Central African Republic show that African nations find it more beneficial to work with new partners such as the Brics group of states. These partners refrain from interfering in internal politics and adhere to pre-established agreements. Africa seeks allies and collaborators, not dominators. 

Africans no longer view Europe and the US as beacons of hope; fear and subservience have dissipated. One certainty is that the next world war shall be an energy war and Africa will be at the centre of it.

Energy and the role of foreign banks is the source of instability in Africa. Monetary control by the banks of the United Kingdom and France is also a cause of instability in the Sahel. 

The main point is that Africa cannot prosper without proper control of their own money creation process. Most of the African elites’ assets are stored in foreign banks. 

All the “help” that is provided by the West goes to the elites of countries. And then they store this money in Western banks. As a result foreign countries have gained control over our economies and over our natural resources because “help“ never goes unpaid, while the general population in the Sahel remain poor. In the case of Niger, France gets 95% of revenue for uranium, and only 5% goes to the government of the republic. 

Sikhumbuzo Thomo is an activist from afar.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.