Paris Olympics 2024: Preparations and Francophone Africa’s New Anti-French Sentiments

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

In the Social Sciences, action and reaction are hardly equal and opposite as propounded by Isaac Newton in Physics. The rule of reciprocity has shown in international relations that an action, like the unprovoked attack by the Japanese on US Pearl Harbour during World War II, and the US reaction to the attack with the detonation of the atomic Little or Small Man on Hiroshima on August 6 and the Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, has no equal impact or opposite character. The truth was that, when the atomic bombs were dropped, people had to run helter-skelter. Even the Executive meeting being held under the Emperor when the bombs were being dropped was quickly discontinued.

This theory of action and reaction is quite relevant to the discussion of the successfully-tested new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by North Korea on Thursday morning, 13th April, 2023 for the first time. In the words of Kim Jong-un, the new weapon would ‘greatly reorganise our strategic deterrence and reinforce effectiveness of our nuclear counterattack. We will strike with deadly force and respond aggressively until the enemy gives up its idle strategy and foolish behaviour and so that it will suffer in endless fear.’ This is a North Korean thinking. The missile test caused much panic in Japan.

Again, many people say that great minds think alike though fools seldom differ. True, France is a country of great minds and philosophers. And true also, North Korea has great minds of repute. However, France and North Korea have different great minds that are not thinking alike at all. North Korea is much preoccupied with national defence and security, especially how to undermine Japano-American entente with South Korea in order to weaken North Korea. If you want peace, Von Clausewitz has argued, prepare for war. This is the mind of North Korea while France’s mind is how to use sports, particularly the Olympics 2024, as an instrument to promote international solidarity in an unprecedented manner.

As the French have it, ‘les Jeux Olympiques de Paris 2024 seront le plus grand événement jamais organisé en France. Ils se tiendront du 26 juillet au 11 août 2024, durant 16 jours hors du temps pendant lesquels Paris 2024 sera le Coeur du Monde… Les jeux sont un rendez-vous unique pour lequel Paris 2024 travaille depuis la phase de candidature. En décrochant l’organisation des Jeux Olympiques et Paralympiques le 13 septembre 2017, Paris 2024 s’est lancé dans l’aventure avec une ambition: proposer des jeux révolutionnaires.’ Explained differently, the Olympic Games of 2024 to be held in Paris will be a great event never organised in France. It will be held from 24 July to 11 August, 2024. During the 16 days out of time, Paris 2024 will be the Heart of the World. The games are an appointment for which Paris 2024 have been working since the time France presented her candidature to host the event. By inaugurating the Olympic and Paralympic Games on 13 September 2017, Paris 2024 took off with one ambition: offer revolutionary games. Thus, the French thinking cannot but be quite different. Great minds can think alike or differently. 

Paris 2024 Preparations

 When the Americans first detonated the little man on Hiroshima, the Japanese never believed that the United States could have the capacity and capability to produce such atomic bombs. It was when the fat man was detonated on August 9 that, at 2 a.m. on August 10, 1945 the Japanese Prime Minister, Admiral Baron Kantaro Suzuki, was compelled to beg His Imperial Majesty Hirohito to quickly take a decision on the way forward that Hirohito had to respond as follows: ‘I do not desire any further destruction of cultures, nor any additional misfortune for the peoples of the world. On this occasion, we have to bear the unbearable.’ Hirohito’s surrender speaks volumes. The Japanese promptly recognised that the Americans and the Japanese were not at the same level and that water must always find its level.

In other words, France is currently giving active support to the Ukrainians in their struggle against the Russian invasion, meaning that France is also directly opposed to the Russians. In terms of strategic calculations, France can be a target of Russian attack. The Russians are currently an arch enemy of the Americans, and particularly the US-led NATO countries. In the same vein, China is another arch enemy of the Americans, meaning that, in the event of nuclear power rivalry and assaults, there may be the United States, the United Kingdom and France, on the one hand, fighting Russia, North Korea, and China, on the other hand. They are all nuclear stakeholders even if North Korea is yet to be so recognised.

With the current situational reality of the Russo-Ukrainian war, and particularly with the uncertainty surrounding the scenarios of the outcome, what does the picture of Paris 2024 look like? Will the Ukrainian saga have been thrown into the dustbin of history by 2024? Can the misunderstanding between the two Koreas impact negatively on Paris 2024? The United States, Japan and South Korea are having joint military drills and are all allies of France. Can North Korea vex its anger against them using the Paris 2024 platform? 

Recall the Munich massacre of September 22, 1972 when the Palestinian militant organisation, Black September, infiltrated the Olympic Village and killed two members of the Israeli team and took nine others hostage during the Summer Olympics. More important, the NATO countries appear to have adopted the strategy of attrition warfare vis-à-vis Russia. Can Russia be really grinded down by 2024 in such a way as to be able to make Paris 2024 very secure? Without iota of doubt, social protests are quite common and sophisticated in France, apparently because of liberté, égalité and fratenité which are the foundational principles of political governance. Every jot of grievance is immediately met with organised, and sometimes spontaneous, protests. How the ruling of the French Constitutional Council on the retirement age can affect Paris 2024 is another kettle of fish entirely.

Without any shadow of doubt, what I saw last week in Paris, suggests that France is really prepared to tell the world and show something new in the use of sports to promote international cultures. Paris 2024 is designed to be revolutionary and the great minds of France appear to have also taken ‘medicine against steel.’ First, I went to France to have a better understanding of the new environmental conditionings in France. This understanding is necessary in explicating France’s new policy attitude towards Nigeria in my second book on Franco-Nigerian Relations. The first book, also on Franco-Nigerian relations, covered the period from 1960 to 1995. The second one in preparation covers the period 1995 to 2020.

And true, the research environment in France has completely changed for the better:  the new National Library was planned in 1989 by President François Mitterrand and inaugurated on 30th March, 1995. In 1998, the old National Library in 58 Rue Richelieu, Paris 2, took six months to pack its more than ten million books to the new site, leaving behind manuscripts, estampes and photographs. There were 2000 places for researchers in 14 rooms, meaning that each room can contain about 140 people. In the words of Mitterrand, the library is ‘être à la disposition de tous’ (to be open to all), have the most modern technologies and be ‘une arme dans le combat de la liberté’ (be a weapon in the struggle for liberty). The audio-visual section has 120,000 hours of numerical archival materials. On December 20, 1996, the reading room had capacity for 1600 people. It is open to the public.

What is noteworthy about research libraries from the perspectives of President Mitterrand is the functional purpose of a library: an instrument of struggle. In other words, reading is having new knowledge, knowledge is information giving, information is power and power is essentially influence and weapon of self-defence. Indeed, possession of knowledge does not allow for explicit cheating and abuse. Knowledge is an antidote to people’s arrogance and abuse of power by elected officials. Reading is education that is self-liberating.

Another area of interesting development is the improvement of the Métro lines and services. The improvement is clearly an expression of good governance. In Nigeria, development of infrastructure is more influenced by political whims and caprices. If the President of Nigeria or the Governor of a state is visiting any community, particularly the remote areas of any given state, the roads that the President is expected to pass through will be quickly repaired. Official houses and offices will be quickly refurbished. In fact, impression is often given that the ‘area is quiet and normal’ to borrow from the Police. The ideal thing is to allow the president to go through the bad roads, and then use the experience to make a case for repairs and development funds. Probably because funds normally set aside for such development might have been diverted, a host of the President must avoid giving bad impression. In France, road infrastructural development is always programmatic.

Before I left France in 1984, Metroline One, covered Pont de Neuilly and… The line opened at 5.21 am and closed at 12.39am. When I returned to the country about five years after, the line had been extended from Pont de Neuilly to La Défense. More interesting is line 4, covering Porte de Clignancourt and Porte d’Orléans. The line has been extended from Porte d’Orléans to Bagneux Lucie Aurac. Mairie de Montrouge and Barbara station have been provided in between. Before now, the metro line used to have tyre-driven wagons with first class coaches. Today, the idea of several coaches is no more. All the coaches have been connected together in such a way that one can trek from the front to the last. In fact, there is nothing like first class anymore. The whole length of the Métro has been digitised. Is this in preparation for Paris 2024? We cannot tell. What we know for certain is that the organisation of Paris 2024 is expected to be unprecedented. France wants to surprise the whole world.

True, several of the Olympic events are being planned to hold on the River Seine at the heart of Paris. Different infrastructural projects have been initiated not only in the Paris region, but also in different regions. There is the Link Tower project for the construction of a two-mixed-use building towers in Paris-la Défense in the district of Michelet. It was started in Q3 of 2021 and scheduled for completion in Q2 of 2025. The project was initiated in response to demands for office space and leisure facilities. There is also the Paris Tour Triangle High Rise Building project. It is a 42-storey triangular office building on 80,000m2 being built at the Porte de Versailles in the 15th District of Paris at a cost of $755m. Construction work began in Q3 of 2021 and is scheduled to be completed in Q2, 2025 

Outside of the Paris region, there is the Marseille Tramway extension, covering 10.6 km, begun in Q3, 2021 and expected to be completed in Q4 of 2025. There is also the La Tronche Athanor Incineration Plant being built at a cost of $226m in the La Tronche Commune. It is scheduled to be completed in Q4, 2024. The construction work began in Q3 of 2021. Whether all these infrastructural development efforts are aimed at advancing the purposes of Paris 2024 may be difficult to tell. However it is against these developments that the new attitudinal hostility by some Francophone African countries towards France should be investigated in order to seek a better understanding of the future prospects.

New anti-French Sentiments in Africa

With the growing anti-French sentiments in Francophone Africa, France’s role is gradually declining for many rationales. First is France’s double standard approach to democratic governance in Francophone Africa. The Malian Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, explained the hypocrisy thus: ‘France applauds coups d’état when they are in its interests, and condemns them when they are not in its interests.’ The observation is substantiated by the empirical cases of Mali and Chad. The coup in Mali, even though it enjoyed popular support, is seen by France as illegitimate. The coup plotters were condemned while the unconstitutional transition of power in Chad was actively supported. In other words, because of the support being given by the Chadian government to the military struggle for political stability and regional security, France simply turned her eyes away from democratic procedures.

A second reason is renewed and strengthening of neo-colonialism by President Emmanuel Macron. He is on record to have invited the leaders of the G-5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) to Pau in France in early 2020. At the meeting, Macron reportedly told his guests that there was the need for a ‘clear and committed public declarations of support for Operation Barkhane’ by African leaders. In fact, the Malian Prime Minister, Choguel Maïga, accused France of engaging in ‘political, media, and diplomatic terrorism against Mali. 

The French responded that the Malian attitude was provocative and that the military junta was illegitimate. This did not go well with many Francophone leaders.

Another significant reason for the rising anti-French sentiments is what has been described as ‘France’s Original Sin’ (vide Nathaniel Powell’s “Why France Failed in Mali,” War on Rocks. Texas National Security Review, February 21, 2022; vide also waronthe The sin was the ‘French refusal to allow Malian government troops into the northern town of Kidal – ostensibly because of the very real risk of violent reprisals against the local population – and Bamako’s subsequent difficulties in establishing government control there, have fuelled Malian nationalist anger against France… This issue has helped poison Franco-Malian relations, ever since, with multiple commentators referring to it as France’s original sin’ (ibid).

Additionally, Mali has always accused France of conniving with the terrorists. This accusation is based on alleged France’s association with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which is a Tuareg secessionist group that kick-started the 2012 rebellion and paved the way for the jihadist control of Northern Mali. All these developments culminated in the decision to invite Russia to come and assist Mali against the mainmise of France. But France has vehemently opposed the cultivation of Russian influence in Mali. 

The dynamics of anti-French sentiments in Burkina Faso are not all that different. Several thousands of people have been killed by Jihadist terrorists in the country and the French troops have also been helpless. As explained by the Le Monde of February 21, 2023, ‘Burkina Faso is one of the world’s poorest nations and currently around 40% of its territory lies outside government control… Burkina Faso is battling a jihadist insurgency that spread from neighbouring Mali in 2015. The violence has led to more than 10,000 deaths, according to estimates by non-governmental organisations, and displaced some two million.  Anger within the military at failures to stem the bloodshed led to two coups last year (2022).’ The deterioration in the relationship compelled the 4-week ultimatum given by the Burkinabe government to France to withdraw all her troops and why France had to accept the ultimatum. In fact, President Macron had to announce on 17th February 2022 the withdrawal of the French troops from Mali.

Unbelievable but true, France has played some significant roles in the containment of terrorism in Mali. France first put in place Operation Serval in 2013 to chase away the terrorists in Northern Mali. By the time of the inauguration of the operation, the jihadists were already nearing the capital city of Bamako. It was thanks to the French military that the advancement of the terrorists was stopped. As early as August 2014, Operation Serval was restructured and re-named Operation Barkhane to specifically contain the terrorists and help stabilise the polity in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger Republic. Operation Barkhane was necessary in light of the increasing spread of the jihadists in the whole of the Sahel. This development prompted the United States, the European Union to join the French in improving the operational capacities of the anti-jihadist fighters. There were over 2000 incidents of terrorist attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger with about 6,000 deaths in 2021. The Malians apparently ignored this French effort. 

Two problems can explain this neglect and hostility against France: allegations of exploitation of Malian resources by the French and consideration of recidivist terrorist attacks which the French troops have not been able to contain since 2013. Again, French inability to suppress the terrorists can be explained by the French approach which never worked: French defence strategy is largely military-centric strategy, which emphasises state-building and need for a civilian surge.  Besides, the French emphasised political stability to the detriment of transparent and accountable governance. 

The Malian president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, was a non-performer and the Malian people were openly against him, but France stood like a Rock of Gibraltar behind his government. Eventually, President Keïta was ousted and the Emmanuel Macron considered the 1983-born coup leader, Assimi Goïta, and his government as illegitimate. The French Ambassador to Mali, Joel Meyer, was summoned to the Malian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in reaction to the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s remarks. The ambassador was declared persona non grata. This paved the way for the development of special ties with the Russia, especially thanks to the Wagner outfit of mercenaries. This is another important foundation of the misunderstanding between Mali and France, on the one hand, and between Burkina Faso and France, on the other.

Can this Russo-Malian and Russo-Burkinabe ties be sustained for long on the basis of disagreement with France? When France succeeded in testing her atomic bombs in the late 1950s and particularly in January, April and December 1960, the entire French community rejoiced with France, looking at the feat as a common feat and security umbrella to protect everyone. Will there be expression of support from Francophone Africa for Paris 2024? Will the Francophone Africans be more united or disunited in the matter of Paris 2024? Whatever is the case, Paris 2024 is a unique opportunity for France to seek a better rapprochement with her former friends by particularly apologising for promoting neo-colonialism and not giving much regard to the sovereignty of the former colonies. Not doing so can sustain Russian presence to the detriment of France. Modern-day Africa is opposed to arrogant display of neo-colonialism. And true enough, many African leaders outside of the Francophone setting are happier to play the Russo-Chinese cards than accepting to be shabbily treated by the big powers. Consequently, in the preparations for Paris 2024, President Macron should make haste slowly in evolving better ties in the conduct and management of Franco-African relations. The opportunity of the Paris 2024 is a good opportunity to normalise the cold ties.

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