Troops from France’s former African colonies joined today’s Bastille Day celebrations for the first time to mark 50 years since their independance.
1960 has been described as the year of Africa, which began with French Cameroon declaring its independence.
Twelve others followed afterwards including Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Ivory Coast.
The decades immediately after French decolonisation were largely marred by political instability, conflict and economic instablity.
Yet Paris sought to maintain its sphere of influence on the continent. It gave up colonial rule in exchange for deals with some of Africa’s most authoritarian heads of state that were in line with French business and politcal interests.
The policy led former Ivory Coast president Felix Houpuet Boigny to coin the term: “Françafrique.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly vowed to clean up his country’s relationship with its former colonies.
He instead wants a more ethical African policy on Africa, warning diplomatic ties could be suspended if former colonies do not respect basic human rights or hold democratic elections.
As part of this ruputure with past, France has been gradually scaling down its military presence on African territory.
In 1960, it had 250,000 troops stationed in Francophone Africa. Today, it has less than 5,000.
The move is a recognition that France’s foreign policy priorities lie elsewhere.
But the question many are asking if whether this oft-repeated promise by the French president will actually bring about real change for the people of Francophone Africa