Secretary of State Warren Christopher issued a public challenge to France on Saturday to allow its former colonies in Africa greater independence and stop treating them as a “private domain.”
In a highly unusual rebuke of a valued ally, Christopher did not refer to France by name. But officials accompanying him made clear his target was France and what they described as the paternalistic ties it maintains with its dozen or so former colonies, mostly in West and Central Africa.
Speaking to a gathering at Witwatersrand University, Christopher said, “The time has passed when Africa could be carved into spheres of influence, or when outside powers could view whole groups of states as their private domain.”
He said that if the United States is to make a positive difference in Africa, “all nations must cooperate, not compete.”
He said Africa “needs the support of its many friends, not the exclusive patronage of a few. The United States will do its part, not only because it is right but because it is in our interest to help Africa.”
Christopher’s comments followed scathing criticism on Wednesday by the French minister for foreign cooperation, Jacques Godfrain, who dismissed Christopher’s five-nation Africa as a pre-election ploy.
Godfrain was reported to have said, “Since Bill Clinton hasn’t been to Africa once, since he didn’t even mention Africa in his speech before the U.N. General Assembly, and since U.S. foreign development aid has diminished by 15 percent, I am delighted to see the president showing interest in Africa and making it a priority three weeks before the presidential election.”
U.S. officials accompanying Christopher said the French unhappiness had less to do with pre-election politicking than with the choice of Mali, a former French colony, as the initial stop on the Africa trip, a five-nation journey that ends Monday in Angola.
More than any other colonial power in Africa, France has jealously guarded what it sees as its prerogatives in dealing with the former colonies, sending troops to preserve order and maintaining close links between the French franc and local currencies.
A U.S. official accompanying Christopher was reminded that the United States has a long history of intervening in the Caribbean to protect its interests, particularly during the 1980s.
The official replied that Caribbean countries have more independence than former French colonies.
Christopher’s speech was sponsored by the South African Institute of International Studies at Witwatersrand.
Hecklers could be heard shouting from outside the speech site, demanding that the United States stay out of Africa, the Persian Gulf and Cuba. Amidst one heckling episode, Christopher interrupted his speech to say he was pleased to see that the university’s reputation for free speech was “alive and well.”
A recurring theme on his Africa tour is an all-Africa Crisis Response Force the United States is promoting.
At least five countries have indicated a willingness to contribute troops but President Nelson Mandela responded hesitantly on Saturday when Christopher broached the subject during a meeting in Capetown.
If the initiative is going to succeed, Mandela told reporters, “it must have credibility. It must not come from one country.”
Under the proposal, the United States and other countries would provide financing and training for the force while African countries would supply the manpower.