A Small Collection of Tycoons of the Economy in French-Speaking Africa
We describe below the main French monopolies who are the real economic masters in French-speaking Africa.
The list is clearly not exhaustive. Some of these enterprises were established since colonial times (this is the case of the CFAO), others came at the time of independence and neo-colonialism (such as Dagris). These latter have notably profited from the wave of privatisations imposed by the IMF, the World Bank and the Club of Paris at the end of the 1980s. This was the time of the buying up of African public enterprises sold off to Bouygues, EDF and France Telecom, who got their hands on the water, telecommunications and energy sectors.
Many of these French monopolies are still nationalised, but their privatisation has already been announced. There were, at that time, few voices raised in the trade unions to denounce their predatory policies in Africa and in Latin America (particularly in Argentina), even though they foreshadowed, in caricature, the policy of privatisation that would affect the monopolies in France itself.
The social and human damage caused by this self-off was considerable for these countries in which economic development had been hindered during the whole colonial period. The period of neo-colonialism, that of formal independence and of economic, political and military subjugation to the imperialist power, has seen a certain economic development, but this has remained very dependent on the metropolitan power. These countries furnished – and continue to furnish – raw materials (agricultural and mineral products) at low prices, and have their outlet guaranteed by the products of the monopolies.
To this mechanism of subjugation by debt one should add monetary dependence on the franc, by means of the CFA [French African Community – translator’s note] franc. In other words, the 15 countries of the franc zone do not have any control of their own money. When the Euro was created, the CFA franc was ‘tied to’ it. This ‘strong’ currency is not a reflection of the economies of those countries that use it. This means that the prices denominated in CFA francs are overvalued. The [prices of] the export products of these countries are artificially elevated, which penalises them on the world market. When the Euro increases in value in relation to the dollar, this has dramatic consequences for the export products of these countries (cotton, cocoa, etc.), which are also in competition with the products of neighbouring countries outside the franc zone, but also with the products denominated in dollars.
The devaluation of January 1994 cut in half, from one day to the next, the weak purchasing power of the peasant masses, of the workers in the towns, of the artisans and the small shopkeepers. Conversely, the profiteers in the leading circles had taken precautions and found themselves twice as rich.
Today, one demand is being put forward, even in economic circles, that is, the dissolution of the CFA franc.
The Bolloré group made a large part of its fortune in Africa, where it realises a third of its turnover. Under Michel Roussin, it added services of portfolios as one of the pillars of the resources of French Africa, with franchises in some 20 countries of the zone.
The strongpoint of the group is its control of all the transport links for raw materials throughout the continent (there are now 43 African countries!), from trucks to trains, including hangars, port services and container ports. The group also has interests in the rubber plantations in Liberia, palm oil in Cameroon, and tourism in Senegal. It is in the process of withdrawing from cocoa in the Ivory Coast.
It is characteristic of this group, which is strongly marked by the personality of its boss, that it proceeds by ‘blows’, it does not hesitate to withdraw, from one day to the next, if a greater opportunity presents itself. Bolloré recently began investing capital in Liberation [major left-liberal newspaper in France – translator’s note]. It plans to form a media branch, with televisions and newspapers.
Roussin is the very prototype of French Africa, which combines private economic interests, the resources of information services and the army. Responsible for the African-Caribbean zone to Medef, today he is an adviser for Bolloré.
The CFAO Group
A former colonial trading group, it has been present on the African continent for more than 100 years, selling rubber as well as machines and cars. Since 1997, it has extended into the Mahgreb [former French colonies in North Africa – translator’s note] and English-speaking Africa, with an increase in sales of 66%. Its objective is the telecommunications and computer sectors.
The Castel Group
Wherever you are, from Ethiopia to Tunisia, or in any of the 16 French-speaking African countries, when you order a beer, the chances are you will be drinking a Castel or one of its numerous national variations. As long as you are not drinking wine, Coca-Cola or Orangina, you will still be a customer of Castel. With 45 production sites, it is also one of the largest owners of Bordelais.
This company with public capital has controlled ‘French’ cotton since 1949, in other words, cotton that is produced in 20 countries, including Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Togo, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Morocco and Algeria. Its present director is engaged in the process of privatization and majority control of all its African subsidiaries. It is, as it were, the ‘French cotton belt.’
The world’s fourth largest oil and gas company still realises one third of its turnover in Africa. With its change of name and merger, Elf has become a ‘state within a state’ and mixes business, trade and politics, as can be seen from several trials of mafias in French Africa.
The offensive of the British companies in Chad, Guinea and Angola, shows the desire of U.S. imperialism to implant itself on the continent and to take control of its oil fields.
The General Society
This is one of the big French banks, which controls the banking sector of Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, a part of the banking sector of Ghana, Tunisia and Morocco. It is the main banking group in the franc zone and in the Mahgreb and it is still expanding. With a balance sheet of $7.5 billion in 2002, it made $503 million in profits.
From Ouagadougou to Bamako, from Abidjan to Yaoundé [capitals of Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast and Cameroon, respectively – translator’s note], French Africa has gone on too long.
Solidarity with the African Peoples!
La Forge, December, 2004
Translated from the French by George Gruenthal
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