Francophone African nations are shifting their cultural allegiance from their old colonial master to America, a process that will change both Africa and the West
Ivorian refugees carry their possessions on their heads as they walk past a French army checkpoint on October 11, 2002. Eric Gaillard/Reuters
In the scandalous case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French IMF chief currently held in New York facing attempted rape charges, the powerful issues of race and gender easily overwhelm one curious geopolitical detail: what's a woman from a French-speaking, former French colony in West Africa doing in the U.S. in the first place? In this case, she is from Guinea, but she could just as likely be from Senegal, Cameroon, Rwanda, Gabon, or Benin -- all Francophone countries that once sent their most ambitious immigrants almost exclusively to France. Now these and other French-speaking African countries experience a steady outflow people to the U.S.
The presence of a growing number of French-speaking Africans reflects a monumental shift in the relationship of sub-Saharan Africa to France and to the U.S. The shift has been years in the making, and its still-unfolding consequences are dimly appreciated.
I first experienced directly France's loosening hold on its former French colonies on a lengthy visit to Cameroon in 2005. I went to report on the purchase by a U.S. company of the entire electricity system of Cameroon. French-trained technocrats -- all Cameroonian nationals -- were hired to manage the newly privatized system, which was the largest single employer in Cameroon. When I met Jean Bile, the chief executive officer, I found him fluent in English; so was his entire leadership team.