French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut unhappy with the manner in which the French colonization of Africa is being taught, expressed his dismay when he was interviewed for a newspaper article in November 2005. In this excerpt from that interview he said; “But in France, they’re actually changing the teaching of colonial history and the history of slavery in the schools. Now they teach colonial history as an exclusively negative history. We don’t teach anymore that the colonial project also sought to educate, to bring civilization to the savages. They only talk about it as an attempt at exploitation, domination and plunder.” His interview came on the heels of the youth protest which began on October 25th 2005 when two youth, Ziad Benna and Bouna Traore were electrocuted as they hid from police in an electric transformer. The two children were part of a group of youth being chased by police, terrified of being caught and brutalized, they hid in the transformer where they were electrocuted and burned to death. Like many racialized youth living in white dominated societies, they had fled at the sight of police. Racialised people living in any country where they are the target of overpolicing usually have a fear of police brutality because of their lived experience.
There have been long-standing tensions between the French mostly white police force and members of racialised communities mostly living in low income neighbourhoods. Many of the youth who protested are the children and grandchildren (most of them born in France) of the 5 million African and Arab immigrants in France who are warehoused in segregated neighbourhoods on the outskirts of major cities. This is a direct result of employees of low income housing agencies practicing segregation along racial lines when placing clients into public housing. Racism and police brutality are the norm in these communities and in a November 4th statement, the Movement Against Racism and for the Friendship of Peoples (MRAP) described their lived reality as a “territorial, ethnic and social apartheid.”
The protest in October and November of 2005 against racism, poverty and police brutality was sparked by the words of then Minister of the Interior, (now France’s President) Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy, describing the racialized youth as "scum" had for several months beforehand been promising to "pressure clean" the largely racialized neighbourhoods with a "Kärcher," (a well-known brand of industrial-strength pressure-washer which is used to clean dog excrement off the streets). His words had already created an extremely toxic and explosive atmosphere and the deaths of the two youth triggered an outpouring of mass anger which led to thousands of disenfranchised young people pouring into the streets of more than 300 cities and towns across France to express their rage. The situation facing the affected communities in France today is a result of the French colonization of Africa.
On November 8th, 2005, the French government declared a state of emergency, invoking an April 3rd, 1955 law passed to oppress supporters of Algerian liberation from France. The “state of emergency” declaration in 2005 evoked memories of the October 17th, 1961, massacre of approximately 400 Algerians peacefully protesting in Paris. Hundreds of protesters were shot or beaten to death and their bodies dumped in the Seine River. Many demonstrators died when they were violently herded by police into the Seine River, with some thrown from bridges after being beaten unconscious. Other demonstrators were killed within the courtyard of the Paris police headquarters after being arrested and driven there in police buses. In 2005, Sarkozy’s referral to demonstrating youth as “scum” would have been a reminder of France’s brutal and barbaric response to the October 1961 protesters. The deaths of Ziad Benna and Bouna Traore ignited many pre-existing tensions. Protesters quoted in newspaper articles said that the protest was an expression of frustration with high unemployment and police harassment and brutality. Ten percent of French workers are unemployed, according to official statistics but for young people in the suburbs, largely populated by African immigrants, the rate is as high as 50 percent. Sarkozy promised to deport anyone rounded up by the police who might be involved in the protest movement. By November 12th, close to 2,500 people had been arrested, including 450 youths under 18 who were rushed through emergency juvenile court proceedings.
Two years later, speaking at the Cheik Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal on 26 July 2007, as France’s President, Sarkozy is quoted: “The problem of Africa, and allow a friend of Africa to say it, is to be found here. Africa’s challenge is to enter to a greater extent into history. Africa’s problem is to stop always repeating, always mulling over, to liberate itself from the myth of the eternal return. It is to realise that the golden age that Africa is forever recalling will not return because it has never existed.” He described the French who colonized Africa as; “men of goodwill, men who thought they were carrying out a civilizing mission...They thought they were bringing freedom. They thought they were breaking the chains of obscurantism, superstition and servitude.”
On Sunday, November 25th 2007 at 5:00 p.m. an eerily similar situation to the one in October 2005 occurred when two youth riding on a motorbike were hit by a police car and were left for dead. Some witnesses to the collision between the motorbike and police car say the officers left the scene without helping the victims. Larami Samoura, 16 and Moushin Souhelli, 15 were killed on November 25th, 2007. Media use of the term “involuntary homicide” infuriated residents of the area, many of whom were convinced the collision was deliberately provoked by the police. According to one newspaper report, the 16 year old had been threatened by police the previous week. As minister of the Interior in 2003, Sarkozy had championed a policy of permanently stationing riot police and mobile police divisions in neighbourhoods of largely racialized populations, capable of rapidly mobilizing great numbers of police to raid these poor neighbourhoods. With the openly racist policies of the government, racialized people in France have found themselves targeted by police. This racist trend in France is not surprising given the disrespect that the President of the country and influential figures like philosopher Alain Finkielkraut have openly expressed towards Africa and Africans.
It was into this white supremacist French society with its proven anti-African racism that a group of white men and women who had lied their way into communities in a North-Central African country, were planning to take 103 kidnapped African children. Chad, once colonized by France was the scene of this act of international terrorism with the attempted kidnapping in October 2007 of some of its most vulnerable citizens. The children aged between one and ten years old were covered in fake blood and bandages in an attempt to obscure their identity. When the children were rescued they were found to be severely traumatized, many of them weeping for their mothers. When the news of the capture of the kidnappers hit the French airwaves there were angry white people in France who had paid handsomely (between 2,800 and 8,400 euros) to lay claim to the African children.
Given the recent spate of white pedophiles roaming the globe in search of victims from developing countries it was not surprising that Idriss Déby, the Chadian president feared the children were in the hands of an international gang of pedophiles. The gang of white kidnappers included one Belgian, seven Spanish and nine French men and women. The Chadian government arrested the kidnappers but eventually allowed the seven Spaniards, the Belgian and three of the French people to leave the country. On November 4th, 2007 ten days after the October arrest, Sarkozy, Africa's "big friend" was in Chad to take seven of the gang of kidnappers home. On November 10th, six days later, four other members of the gang were allowed to leave Chad. The remaining six French people, apparently the masterminds of the kidnapping plot were tried, found guilty and sentenced to eight years hard labour. On Friday, December 28th, two days after the trial and sentencing, the six French kidnappers were back in France, courtesy of Sarkozy. Great concern was expressed about the health of the kidnappers who had spent two months in a Chadian jail. Not surprisingly, no one in France seemed to care about the trauma of the kidnapped children who have not yet been reunited with their families.
Written in January 2008