20 of the major economies on the planet unite annually at the G20 to discuss ways in which they can work together in order to improve the state of the world globally. It is during this forum that Emmanuel Macron, the freshly elected French president, made remarks about Africa that made many people frown. When asked why there was no Marshall Plan (a financial aid given from the US to European countries destroyed after World War 2) for the continent, Macron answered by describing Africa’s issue as “civilisational”, and went on by mentioning failed states, complex democratic transitions but also the fact that in many African countries today women still have 7 to 8 children, as reasons as to why investing money into the development of the African continent would be “useless because nothing would change”.
While this statement was shocking to many given Macron’s liberal alignments, it is also synonymous with the ignorance, or denial, of the French government in regards to France’s exploitation of the African continent during and after colonisation and therefore its direct hand in making Africa what it is today.
By Yannis Davy Guibinga*, AFROPUNK contributor
For Macron to blame Africa’s underdevelopment solely on Africans themselves is to completely disregard the exploitation and control France has had on the African continent for centuries now. It is well documented that France’s desire to have an independent energy industry is what motivated Charles De Gaulle (France’s president from 1959 to 1969) to start exploiting the natural resources of the African continent after World War 2. It is the control of these minerals, oils, and forests and the economic profit it led to that allowed France to remain a global force. France’s economic development therefore heavily relied on the exploitation of African’s natural resources and its people who were being robbed of their own resources and therefore, of economic capital.
“Failed states and difficult democratic transition” were also cited by Macron as one of the reasons as to why Africa is in the state it is today. A statement made while overlooking the fact that France has controlled the African political landscape ever since former colonies gained independence, as a way to maintain stability while exploiting the resources. Many African presidents were, in fact, appointed by France officials themselves, very often through electoral fraud. France’s political control over the continent, therefore, robbed Africans from true democracy and the development that comes with an alternate of governments and ideas, which naturally resulted in revolts, civil wars, and unrest. Blaming Africans on their complex relationship with democracy while being the president a nation which had a direct hand in controlling and damaging said democracy on the continent, therefore, shows a lack of understanding and critical thinking from the French president regarding the continent and its history.
Women were “still making 7 to 8 children in certain African countries” was the final reason Macron gave as to why Africa remained underdeveloped. Among the shocking things the French president said about the continent in a just a matter of minutes, this is what was the most shocking to most and incited the most reactions online. Blaming women’s fertility on the underdevelopment of the continent is for many a gross oversimplification of the facts relying on racist tropes about Africa and Africans, but also an oversight of the particular context of the African continent. Large families are the results of poverty, rather than the cause. Indeed, development leads to lower birth rates because of the higher life expectancy and knowledge regarding birth control. Furthermore, it is culturally more common for families in many African countries to have many children, especially in agrarian communities.
The lack of knowledge regarding family planning and birth control, the lack of access to birth control and the alarming rate of sexual assaults in several countries are things all affecting the fertility rate and related to the development of the continent. Because there is an inverse correlation between birth rate and development, the high fertility rates mentioned by Macron are therefore a result of the underdevelopment of the African continent, rather than the cause like he seems to think.
The statements made by the French president regarding Africa at the G20, therefore, shows not only a lack of basic empathy from the French president but also and most importantly, a lack of understanding in terms of the state of the African continent and the causes of said state. This is especially scary given how influential France still remains on the African continent, and how French policies and actions can affect many of its former colonies.
The lack of accountability and responsibility from Western countries in regards to Africa’s current state is the reason why the continent’s development and financial autonomy will be even more of a challenge. While the true development and independence of Africa will come from Africans themselves, recognizing the degrees to which the West negatively affected the African continent remains important if we truly want to understand how to fix African institutions and ultimately to move towards a healthy development of the continent as a whole.
Photo of by Sean Gallup/Getty Images
*Yannis Davy Guibinga is a photographer and writer originally from Libreville, Gabon, and based in Montréal, Canada. Focusing mostly on portraits, Yannis' work is mostly centered around studying blackness at large and its intersections with other social factors such as culture and gender.