Editor’s Note: January 23, 2019

Italy hits a nerve on ‘Françafrique’

Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini has accused France of benefiting from instability in Libya in an escalating war of words over Paris’s influence in Africa. This follows accusations by deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio that France is contributing to poverty and corruption through neocolonial policies.

The row is of course not really about Africa, but the EU’s infighting over migration.

Yet the comments will likely hit a nerve in Paris.

Françafrique, as France’s relationship with Africa is known, is generally perceived to be a negative influence, especially in former colonies.

Accusations of neocolonialism are nothing new, including the continued use of the colonial-era CFA franc as the official currency in 14 West and Central African countries, with monetary policy effectively dictated by Paris.

The consensus is that France’s top-down approach to Africa is out of step with the 21st century.

French president Emmanuel Macron has made changing this a policy priority, promising to leave the days of ‘telling Africans what to do’ behind. The jury is out on how substantive this is, but the change in tone is an overdue adjustment.

The most striking thing about the spat is that it has fallen to Italy’s far-right, anti-immigration government to directly challenge France on the issue. 

It’s food for thought. 

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