“Gabon without France is like a car with no driver. France without Gabon is like a car with no fuel…”Omar Bongo, former president of Gabon (18 September 1996) reported during an interview for the newspaper Libération.
François Mitterrand, then the French minister of the interior: “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century” (1957).
“A little country [France], with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our]…relations with 15 or 20 African countries…” Jacques Godfrain, former French foreign minister.
This is neither a story of African valor, courage nor of fighting spirit but of foreign interference in African socio-political domain.
French relations with Africa revolves round the ‘Françafrique’ concept. In 1958, former French President Charles de Gaulle promised to give independence to French African colonies if he was re-elected, this was primarily due to international pressure and anti-colonization movement in Africa at the time. Not necessarily due to genuine love for Africa or the continents welfare. To demonstrate to the world of his ‘goodwill’ President de Gaulle granted independence to many African nations except Algeria whose status was separate. He then clandestinely put his close friend and ally Mr. Jacque Foccart to device a medium to control French colonies even though they were independent.
Françafrique is a French Neo-colonialist relationship with former French-African countries. It was first used by President Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d’Ivoire, to insinuate that his country’s ‘economic growth and political stability’ was a direct result of alliance with France. Since 2012, numerous socio-political pundits have spoken of a “return of Françafrique”. On 14 July 2013, troops from 13 African countries marched with the French military during the Bastille Day parade in Paris for the first time since French colonial troops were dissolved.
Although, many historians and political analyst dispute if the concept really existed however, many former African nations encourages cooperation or pact with its former colonial masters. Such as the former President of Côte d’Ivoire Mr. Félix Houphouët-Boigny.
Françafrique includes all of French-speaking Africa, i.e. former French and Belgian colonies in Africa:
Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Central African Republic
Algeria, and also other countries like Equatorial Guinea, where France gained influence after its independence from Spain.
Benin Republic Presidential Palace
Republic of Benin.
Benin formerly Dahomey, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country’s largest city and economic capital.
The Republic of Benin got independence from France on the 1st of August, 1960 however, the young country suffered numerous political and ethic turbulence just like most African countries at that time. It endured coups and counter-coup until late October 1972 when Lt. Col. Mathias Kérékou took power and held it for several years.
During his first two years in power, Kérékou expressed only nationalism and said that the country’s revolution would not “burden itself by copying foreign ideology … We do not want communism or capitalism or socialism. We have our own Dahomean social and cultural system.” On 30 November 1974, however, he announced the adoption of Marxism-Leninism by the state and established relations with the People’s Republic of China, North Korea and Libya.
The country was renamed from the Republic of Dahomey to the People’s Republic of Benin a year later; the banks and petroleum industry were nationalized. The People’s Revolutionary Party of Benin (Parti de la révolution populaire du Bénin, PRPB) was established as the sole ruling party.
This angered France and some Western nations which was embroiled in the cold war at that time. President Mathias Kérékou move was seen as a Soviet manipulation and ‘encroachment’ on delicate home soil. He even went further to recognize Western Sahara officially as an independent country which angered the ruler of Morocco King Hassan II.
President Mathias Kérékou unorthodox way of ruling attracted a lot of enemies within and outside Benin Republic prompting many Beninese to flee abroad. Not too long with the help of King Hassan II and an unspoken consent from France, the dissidents began plotting an overthrow.
They hired Bob Denard a renowned mercenary and rabble rouser. Having been a regular meddler in African politics Mr. Denard wasted no time, he began recruiting adventurous young men and trusted war veterans from previous wars. He placed ads on newspapers offering a monthly fee of 6,000 French franc (a very large amount at that time). In no time 5,000 men applied which he selected the best one hundred and fifty including 22 Africans from Benin and Guinea republic.
By December 1976, his team underwent intensive military training in Ben Guerir air base in Morocco.
Bob Denard’s Omega Team
After various intelligence and careful surveillance missions, he discovered that the Beninese military was I’ll equipped and disorganized. The most formidable unit in the Beninese military – the Parachutist Battalion was enmeshed in its own coup attempt against the President. Thus bolstered by the findings, Bob Denard plan was to deploy his small force quickly to the Beninese capital, overpower any resistance and capture the president before any real opposition could be formed.
He split his force into a four-men headquarters with call sign Sun (Soleil), two assault teams Blue (Bleu) and Black (Noir) team armed with a mix of FN FAL assault rifle, 0.50 Cal MAG machine guns and M-72 Light Anti-Tank Weapons. There was also a 35-man support platoon Yellow (Jaune) equipped with two Browning .50-caliber heavy machine guns and two 81-millimeter mortars. The whole force was named ‘Omega’ and the mission was code-named ‘Operation Shrimp (Crevette).
Operation Shrimp (Crevette).
Members of his strike team numbering about eighty boarded a DC-8 air freighter from Morocco and landed in Gabon where they transferred to another DC-7 aircraft with their equipment. The DC-7 landed at Cotonou airport which they proceeded to assault and capture to secure their escape route.
During the assault, two Beninese army AML-60 armored cars attempted to intervene. One vehicle was knocked out by an anti-tank rifle forcing the other to retreat. While Team Yellow secured the airport, it detached a smaller section to a nearby highway to intercept any incoming Beninese Army opposing force.
As Team Black battled a small resistance group in another part of the city, Omega’s two assault teams moved east towards the Presidential Palace to lay attack it from two directions. Team Blue was pinned down after encountering blistering machine gun fire from the Palace. The machine gun fire was continuous and steady even though Team Yellow—the support unit fired a few mortar rounds on the machine gun nest to no effect.
North Korean Mercenaries to the rescue
Despite Bob Denard’s meticoulous intelligence operation and accurate surveillance data, he missed an important information. Due to the distrust the Benin President had for the Parachutist Battalion, he had expanded the small Presidential Guard into a full battalion secretly giving them better ammunition. All this was done through the North Koreans, the North Korean trainer/advisors who were still in the country weren’t shy of a gunfight and defended the Presidential Palace ferociously.
After hours of intensive gun battle, the North Koreans held their defensive position inadvertently bolstering other Beninese military units to join the fight. Very soon, armored units began appearing on the streets joining the fray.
Recognizing he has lost the moment of surprise, Denard ordered a withdrawal of all of his teams, covered by the mortars.
Despite several Ferrets on their heels, the mercenaries managed to get back to the airport and board the DC-7 – which flew them out to Franceville.
Omega Force lost only two killed and two wounded in the entire operation, but their withdrawal was not without consequences. Namely, in their rush to get out of Benin, the mercenaries left behind all of their documentation, including details on planning and accounting.
These were locked inside an ammunition box that was mistakenly unloaded on arrival in Cotonou. Worst of all, while withdrawing the mercenaries left behind Ba Alpha Oumarou, one of the Guinean members of the team. He failed to evacuate the roof of the control tower on time and was captured alive.