by Gary Littlejohn for the Saker Blog
Part 3 – Commentary – you are now here.
There have been reports recently in the French media that retired senior French military officers, and a lot of younger serving officers, had written an open letter to President Macron saying in effect that unless the French government took decisive action on the banlieues (suburbs, but here code for ‘immigrant’ areas) then the alternative could well be a civil war. To be clear, they were not threatening a coup, but urging the government to deal with what they saw as a serious, growing problem, a problem made still more acute by the despair and unrest manifested in the Yellow Vest series of demonstrations.
The letter was published on the 60th anniversary of the attempted military coup against President Charles de Gaulle over Algeria (21 April 2021). That date may not have much resonance these days, but I can say from personal experience that even on the 14th July 1961 (Bastille Day) tensions were very high in Paris, with machine gun nests on every corner around the Arc de Triomphe. It transpired decades later that there had also been a massacre of hundreds of Algerians at around this time, with the whole affair being completely covered up by the media. Here is the link to that open letter, which is referred to at times in commentaries as a ‘tribune’ or ‘platform’.
What does this imply for the cohesiveness of France, given the lengthy protests by the Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) that were analysed so ably by Ramin Mazaheri on The Saker website? The growing Islamist unrest, which attracted greater attention after the Cathedral at Nantes was set on fire, is stretching the French police forces further at a time when a declared state of emergency has become the new normal in France, through legislative sleight of hand.
The mayor of a part of Paris, a woman of Algerian descent, has supported the sentiments expressed in this first letter, but the public government response was to discuss how those officers could be punished for their actions, and hypocritically to accuse the anonymous serving officers of cowardice for not signing their names, which would be a disciplinary offense.
More recently, we have seen a report of a future letter to be signed by 2,000 serving officers, making a similar argument, while apparently not threatening a coup.
See the second translation also in this link: https://thesaker.is/for-a-return-of-the-honor-of-our-rulers-20-generals-call-on-macron-to-defend-patriotism/
Yet in between these two political interventions there was a response from other military officers, who signed their letter:
This response makes some interesting points after calling for a deeper analysis of the causes of the problems raised by the first letter, and specifically calls out the dominance of finance capital, including what might be called ‘the Davos crowd’ and the use of secret (or ‘open but private’) social networks. Yet although it describes the earlier call for government action as little more than a pious prayer, it fails to make specific recommendations either, and (to my mind disingenuously) describes that earlier call to action as advocating civil war, when it did nothing of the kind. The first letter simply forecast that as a probable outcome if the government did nothing to deal with the problem, and there is little more that the armed forces could do without openly and illegally threatening French ‘democratic’ institutions.
The tone of hypocritical condemnation by politicians coupled with attempts to play down the issue is clearly demonstrated in this article in the UK newspaper The Guardian:
This sort of condemnation enabled the political class to avoid addressing the critique of the other military group, especially the points about finance capital and the social networks that were effectively alleged to subvert democratic institutions. However, on 11th May the ‘second’ letter, which had been circulating among the French media, was republished with an invitation to the public to sign it:
This showed that public support for the military critics was growing. The ‘second’ letter specifically claimed that, having fought in Africa, serving soldiers could recognise the signs of incipient societal collapse – a point that was ignored in the politicians’ responses, which were more focussed on the upcoming elections in France.
However, while the armed forces may well know what societal collapse looks like, that does not mean that they necessarily have a good explanation for such collapses in Africa, even if they are right to draw attention to the dangers in France at a time when the politicians are downplaying the negative trends there, and so are upset at having their narrative disrupted by a clear expression of alarm.
So what are the reasons for the societal collapse in so many parts of Africa? At least in part, they can be ascribed to the neocolonial financial policies and military interventions (including clandestine support for real or fake terrorist forces) originating from the EU member states and the USA. These in turn contribute to fostering the flows of refugees and economic migrants into the EU. To illustrate this point, it helps to look at some of the history of such policies and military interventions.
The changing political and economic context of French military policy in Africa
To help explain such changes in France’s military posture in the last 15 years, I must begin with an account of a conversation in Accra, Ghana in March 2006. That conversation was with three very senior French naval officers, at a conference on maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa. This conference included representatives from 11 West African countries, from Senegal to Angola. I had gone to a quiet corner of the open-air bar with these officers because I wanted to learn more about their views on the conference theme. My interest in this was because my role at the conference was to chair the joint discussion group of Francophone and Lusophone countries, whereas an American was chairing the Anglophone group, and indeed the US Navy had convened and was running the whole conference, in conjunction with the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. The latter is part of the US Department of Defense and is based at Fort McNair, Washington, DC.
The French officers said that they found it difficult to understand why the British did not engage in “360 degrees security”, by which they meant that while France was in NATO, it was not a member of the integrated command system and so was able to pursue what was in many respects an independent defence and foreign policy that was not dominated by the USA. I was well aware that President Charles de Gaulle had taken France out of that NATO integrated command system, and that the senior military officer in NATO HQ in Brussels was always an American who was simultaneously the senior officer of US forces in Europe (EUCOM).
This military policy stance meant that France could more easily resist US pressure to engage in various military actions, and so could focus not only on the overseas French Departements which are still seen as integral parts of the French state but also on its former colonies in Africa, where the governments effectively depended on France. This dependence is induced partly by French control of their currencies, and partly by military support for (or interventions to change) African governments. There are two such currencies which are both usually called the CFA Franc: see
This tactic to remotely control former colonies had also been adopted in the past by the UK, both with the independence of the Republic of Ireland in the 1920s-30s, and in the early 1960s with Nigerian independence, for a much shorter period. In the case of France it has been running since the 1960s and is fully backed by the European Union [EU], since both CFA currencies are now tied to the Euro. This financial measure specifically devoted to France might also have been followed by Portugal if post-independence Mozambique had not secretly organised the logistics to print and mint a new paper and coin currency called the Metical to replace the Portuguese Escudo. Angola rapidly followed suit with the Kwacha.
To understand how and why the French military approach to Africa changed from “360 degree security” (implying a certain independence from US pressure) to a position of having French military action in Africa much more integrated with that of the USA, one needs to look at a fairly complex series of events, including prior changes related to the end of Apartheid in South Africa. To explain all this, it is necessary to start with a description of EU institutions and policies with respect to Africa. These events, together with political changes in France, constitute the context in which France re-entered the NATO integrated command structure and came to coordinate it actions in Africa with those of the USA and the UK.
The EU has long promoted policies that ‘favour’ the former colonies of its member states, especially in terms of a series of aid and trade policies for the African, Caribbean and Pacific [ACP] countries:
In the past, these countries had a series of 5 Lome Agreements, each lasting for about 5 years but more recently these agreements have been replaced by Economic Partnership Agreements [EPAs] which in my view are less favourable to ACP countries, and are framed by the Cotonou Agreement:
These Lome and Cotonou EPA agreements require prior acceptance of World Bank and IMF policies and ‘conditionalities’ as a condition for receiving EU aid, with the leverage being that the EU is the largest aid donor to Africa. In the past, such agreements did not also imply acceptance of competition from US companies, for example, with respect to tropical fruits. However, in 1988, as it became clear to the USA, the Soviet Union and the EU that the strategic military balance in southern Africa had turned against Apartheid South Africa, and that the African National Congress [ANC] had to be forced to negotiate with the ruling National Party to end Apartheid, the EU also realised that this implied independence for the UN Protectorate of South West Africa (soon to be called Namibia) and wished to ensure that this new country would also be ‘offered’ an ACP-type agreement.
In order to square this with the Secretary General of the ACP countries, secret negotiations were held in October 1988 granting some further concessions to the ACP in return for accepting a future EU-ACP type of trade deal with Namibia. This secret agreement continued to exclude US fruit companies from trading with the EU, and was incompatible with WTO rules. It took some years for the USA to notice this, and it only won a change in this situation after long WTO litigation in about 2002.
However, with the Soviet Union having fallen into line with US policy on southern Africa by 1988, thereby leaving the field open for the USA to play the major role in ensuring that Angola removed its Cuban troops as part of the general post-Apartheid re-structuring of the region, the USA both tried to install a secret military base in Botswana and massively increased its support for the rebel UNITA forces in Angola. The USA failed in its initial attempt to establish a secret base in Botswana (although it had succeeded in this by 2005) but despite the Congress cutting off aid to UNITA in 1991, the disbursement of the US aid already committed continued until at least July 1992, with the arrival of 183 Humvees in Angola at that time.
Despite this increasing US influence in Angola (with an active CIA presence and the arrival of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, which was 80 per cent funded by the US State Department) the EU supported the incumbent government of the MPLA. Yet it was terrified of doing so openly. The USA was doubtless aware of this, and presumably on later discovering that the EU was also undermining its policy on US companies trading with the EU, most probably started thinking that further military influence in Africa would enhance its role there at the expense of the dominance of the EU.
At around the same time, the USA wished to diversify its sources of oil and gas, given that its own supplies were diminishing, and so, before it had hit upon the idea of increasing domestic oil production by accessing shale oil, it looked to the newly-discovered oil field in the Gulf of Guinea, specifically that part of it controlled by the former Portuguese island colony of São Tomé and Principe. However, given the extent of piracy, illegal fishing and most importantly illegal oil bunkering (where a tanker ship with an armed crew would arrive at an offshore oil field and demand at gunpoint that the ship be filled up with crude oil and would then apparently disappear), the US realised that maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea would need to be increased. This was the basis for the conference that I was invited to participate in. In fact the Ghana conference in March 2006 was the second of three: the first had been in Abuja, the recently-built capital city of Nigeria, in March 2005, and the third was in Cotonou, the capital of Benin, in October 2006.
By the time of the meeting in Cotonou, the French officers were markedly less emphatic about the pursuit of an independent military policy with respect to Africa. The one who had been most willing to talk to me had been replaced. This was most probably owing to the increasing convergence of opinion with the USA about the ‘War on Terror’ against Islamist insurgencies not only in Afghanistan, but also in North Africa. Indeed within a year or so, I found out a lot more about this from talking to an English professor of social anthropology Jeremy Keenan, who specialised in the Tuareg peoples of North Africa. He had been following up on media reports about a new allegedly Islamist group led by a certain Mokhtar bel Mokhtar, who had been born in the Maghreb region of Algeria. This group had been kidnapping tourists in the Sahel region of North Africa, but the Algerian armed forces were apparently having trouble capturing them.
Keenan had been going to the various locations where the Algerian government claimed to have had battles with this ‘insurgent group’ which later took the name of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and he had discovered that there was not a single empty cartridge case to be found in any of those locations. He had come to the conclusion that this was a false flag operation by the Algerian security service, probably operating in conjunction with French intelligence. This information was later published in 2009 as the book The Dark Sahara:
But Keenan had also told me that some vague verbal remarks of his about the Tuareg being engaged in smuggling across the Sahel had been taken up by the USA and other governments, but changed from smuggling cigarettes to imply that they were smuggling drugs and arms in support of Islamist terrorism. This official line of argument seemed to be motivated by a desire by the Algerian government to place a natural gas pipeline from the Gulf of Guinea across the Sahara to link up with the Algerian pipeline across the Mediterranean to Spain, thereby selling the gas into the EU network. To me the clear implication of this proposal was to reduce the dependence of the EU on Russian natural gas, and in fact I already knew about that proposal because it had already been pitched by the Algerians to the conference in Abuja, Nigeria in March 2005.
What I had not realised until Keenan told me about it was that the arms and drug smuggling claims had been used to target the Tuareg across the Sahel in various countries in the vain hope that pacifying them would mean that the proposed gas pipeline would not be sabotaged. In fact this ridiculous idea was totally counter-productive, because the Tuareg in ‘retaliation’ had been hit so hard that they had collectively decided that no such gas pipeline would ever be built, and indeed it never has been. See The Dying Sahara:
Keenan was by now publicly ridiculing the claims about Islamist terrorism across North Africa, but knew that the narrative would be pursued because he had discovered that by about 2007 France, the USA and the UK had established a joint intelligence centre covering North Africa in Paris. He handed me a copy of an article that he had published in the academic journal Critique of Anthropology where he had made this claim. By 2009, at about the time when Keenan’s first book The Dark Sahara was published, France had formally rejoined the NATO integrated command structure, thereby ending any possibility of a return to “360 degrees security”.
Meanwhile, in 2008 the US links with Gulf of Guinea coastal countries in Africa had presumably been augmented and fostered a growing influence that culminated in the formal establishment of the Africa Command (AFRICOM) in October 2008.
Clearly, unknown to me, work on this had started while the Gulf of Guinea conferences of 2005-6 were taking place. The ostensible reason for those conferences, namely safeguarding oil transits from the Gulf of Guinea to the USA while discouraging piracy and illegal fishing, had fallen by the wayside. (I had naively supported this by convincing myself that it would be good to encourage African countries to cooperate in combating illegal fishing, piracy and illegal bunkering.) The ‘War on Terror’ had been brought to Africa despite there having been no prior evidence for it.
The stage was thereby set, not only for ongoing ‘anti-terrorist’ military activity in Francophone Africa, but for dealing with the emergent threat posed by Libya’s leader Muamar Gaddafi’s proposal to establish a new oil-backed currency, to be called the Gold Dinar, which could be used to reduce the influence of the US dollar in global oil trading and to foster economic development in the Middle East and Africa. Just as with Saddam Hussein’s proposal to start using the Euro for selling oil, Gaddafi’s proposal soon led to his overthrow and death in 2011, in a classic US ‘leading from behind’ operation with France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and the UK’s David Cameron taking the joint operational lead.