There are no losers in the colonial tragedy game of blame

A video of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni denouncing French economic imperialism in Africa, taken from an interview she gave to Italian TV channel La 7 in January 2019, has recently disappeared viraland received high praise both in Europe and Africa.

In the video, the far-right politician claims France uses a “colonial currency” – the CFA franc – to exploit “the resources” of African countries. She then shows a photo of a Burkinabe child miner and claims that “50 percent of everything Burkina Faso exports”, including the gold the child sees in the photo, “goes through a tunnel to win”, “ends up in the French treasury”. .

Her claims are not wrong.

Indeed, France uses the CFA franc – a currency guaranteed by France and pegged to the euro – to exert influence over its former colonies in Africa. It guarantees the value of the CFA franc, but in return requires the countries using it to keep 50 percent of their foreign exchange reserves with the French treasury. This removes virtually all monetary sovereignty from these countries and provides legal cover for neo-colonial plunder.

But Meloni’s apparent ability to acknowledge and denounce France’s rapacious policy towards its former colonies should lead no one to believe she has a real interest in tackling Europe’s continued exploitation of Africa.

After all, Meloni’s own country, Italy, was one of the European settlers in Africa. It controlled areas in Eritrea, Somalia, Libya and Ethiopia. The devastation the Italian Empire wrought in Africa, and the many modern consequences of this exploitation, are well documented. Nevertheless, Meloni never talks about her own country’s guilt in Africa’s current problems, does not apologize or call for reparations.

Moreover, as a member of the European Union (EU) and its eurozone, Italy benefits from the CFA and from Europe’s many other exploitative economic policies towards Africa. But Meloni never proposed a real policy that would help restore the balance of power in the relationship between Europe and Africa. Aside from her attempts to hold French economic imperialism solely responsible for what she sees as Europe’s migration crisis — as she did in her viral interview with La 7 — Meloni didn’t say much at all about colonial reckoning or neo-colonialism.

It seems to the Italian Prime Minister that the profound humanitarian consequences of Africa’s colonially-induced socio-economic misery, as epitomized by desperate migrants risking their lives to reach Europe’s shores on barely afloat dinghies, are nothing but electoral fodder.

In recent years, as discussions of racism and colonialism began to dominate a newly established global public sphere, pointing the finger at other nations’ colonial histories became trendy in the West. Politicians tried to discredit their political opponents with accusations of current or historical colonialism, while turning a blind eye to or actively supporting their own countries’ neo-colonial policies.

Indeed, Meloni is not the only prominent politician to hypocritically use anti-colonial arguments to score points against political rivals. Even French President Emmanuel Macron has jumped on the anti-colonial bandwagon.

On November 20, during a speech on the sidelines of a summit of francophone countries in Tunisia, Macron sought to defend his country’s continued presence in Africa by pointing the finger at Russia.

“You only have to look at what is going on in the Central African Republic or elsewhere to see that the Russian project going on there, when France is pushed aside, is a predatory project,” Macron said. said.

The French leader is right to call the Russian project in Africa a “predation” project. Nevertheless, his attempt to simultaneously present France’s own (much older and much more established) predation project as benevolent or even beneficial to Africans can only be described as shameless.

Russia also joins in this tragicomic colonial guilt game. Its leaders seem eager to point out that Russia has never established colonies in Africa and therefore has not committed “bloody crimes of colonialism” like its western geopolitical rivals.

In July, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that Russia “stands in solidarity with African demands to complete the decolonization process” and would ostensibly decouple their economies from unfavorable European controls.

Meanwhile, during his speech at the Valdai Discussion Club’s annual foreign affairs forum in Moscow on October 24, President Vladimir Putin underlined Russia’s support for African nations as they struggled for independence. Explaining his desire to see an end to Western hegemony over other nations, he said the West pursues its interests without “thinking about the consequences that arise for the African to land”.

Of course, Russia’s ongoing imperial war of aggression in Ukraine alone easily disproves Lavrov’s and Putin’s talkative claims of their country’s support for decolonization, freedom and multipolarity.

Nor can Russia’s own contemporary involvement in Africa be described as decolonial. In fact, Russian agents are easily involved in colonial-style repression and violence in many African countries.

For example, according to a report released in September by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), Russia’s Wagner Group (a private mercenary that is a Kremlin proxies) is engaging in “high levels of attacks against civilians in conflict-ridden CAR and Mali. This politically motivated violence “exceeds the number of attacks against civilians perpetrated by allied state forces, as well as by the major insurgents operating in every context”. A 2021 UN Security Council report on Wagner’s activities in the CAR came to the same conclusion. Violations by the Russians and allied government forces “included instances of excessive force, indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and widespread looting, including of humanitarian organizations,” the report said. The Wagner Group has also been accused of operating forestry and mining concessions in the mineral-rich CAR, Mali and Sudan.

All in all, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between Russia’s actions in Africa and the everyday colonial exploitation of the West. Like France, Russia is in Africa to expand and defend its geopolitical and economic interests at all costs – it has no real interest in the process of decolonization.

In the colonial era, those representing the imperial powers felt no need to hide the nature of their behavior or pretend to be interested in the welfare of the peoples they colonized.

Today, however, we live in a different world. Being anti-colonial is trendy now. So modern imperialists are less candid about the nature of their country’s behavior in Africa than their predecessors. Many of them, regardless of their real inclinations, pay lip service to human rights and view their policies and policies as anti-colonial. So much so that they like to accuse each other of neo-colonialism.

Meloni’s critique of France’s “colonial currency” is correct. Macron’s criticism of Russia’s ‘predation project’ in Africa is also correct. And even Lavrov and Putin are not lying when they talk about the West’s “gory crimes of colonialism.”

But these “hot takes” are not worth celebrating by political leaders who have no interest in challenging their own countries’ neo-colonial policies or taking steps to build mutually beneficial relationships with African nations. to build.

Everyone, especially Africans, should refrain from congratulating the likes of Meloni for doing the obvious to further their own imperial agenda.

There are no real winners in the West’s colonial blame game.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.

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