The Daily Lives of Françafrique: French Expatriate Communities in Gabon 1960-1989.
“How Can France Do Everything That It Does in Africa--And Get Away with It?” In her famous 1981 article in the African Affairs journal, Tamar Golan sheds light onto one of the most sustained mystery within postcolonial African studies.1 The case of Gabon is almost archetypal of such situation. Just as many other scholars before and after her, she puts forward several explanations such as world politics, decolonization (how easy or complicated it was), the Coopération policies, heads of state relationships etc.2 However right these arguments are, they all miss an essential point: the presence of a large and numerically stable body of French nationals working and living in Gabon.
Using oral history interviews with former expatriates in Gabon, this paper seeks to look at how this community has evolved over time and more importantly what it tells us about Franco-Gabonese relations. Coming from all kind of horizons, the interviewees draw a lively picture of what it was like to live overseas in a rather separated community. Their lives and how they interacted with the larger Gabonese society – or did not – over the period at hand is key in understanding French policies towards Africa. If in the early days of independence the boundary between the colonial and the postcolonial is rather blurred, by the late 1980s, a shift has occurred and a certain normalization of Franco-Gabonese – which is yet to be further analyzed and discussed – has happened: the “Heroic Age”, as some of the former participants call the 1960s and early 1970s, has given way to another era that is more difficult to characterized. Gabon and its large number of French expatriates and nationals raise questions as to what extent decolonization is a much longer process than usually acknowledged encompassing not only the political realm but also the economic or interpersonal ones – just to name a few.
Finally, in a time of a more and more mobile workforce of highly educated Frenchmen, thanks to Globalization, it is important to know that they stem from these expatriates of the 1960s that paved the way for them to a certain extent. The study of their daily lives can help us understand what has evolved in almost 55 years and what has remained the same. Through the stories of seventeen French men and women that stayed in Gabon between one and fifteen years, we get a better sense of what it was like to live overseas in what used to be the “France d’Outremer”. When listening to their anecdotes, impressions and memories, one can see and understand the world of Expatriation in all its ambiguities, issues but also joy and human experiences.
Françafrique, an object of political controversy, appears in the light of their testimonies more complex than meets the eye. They show that Postcolonial relationships between France and its former African colonies are much more than just Coopération treatises and high Politics.
Copyright (c) 2016 Baptiste Sibieude
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