AT Washington, on this Friday, April 14, it is around thirty degrees. A marching band walks down a street at Howard University, preceded by cheerleaders. There are blue, white and red balloons, T-shirt stands. Along the central lawn, a man explains to a group where the Starbucks is. It is “accepted students day”, the day when students who have passed the entrance exam visit the university to make their choice. Howard, founded in 1867, is nicknamed the “black Harvard”. Among its famous graduates are Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice of the Supreme Court, Toni Morrison, multi-award-winning world-renowned author, and Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s vice president.
In a room in the Library of the Founders, a red-brick Georgian-style building topped with its famous steeple, a few students are waiting. Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, Secretary of State for Development, La Francophonie and International Partnerships, is due to meet with them. She is in Washington ahead of the summit for a “New global financial pact”, which will be held in June in Paris, before COP-28. And wants to take the opportunity to explain the relationship between France and Africa to students of a university which has the particularity of offering a detailed curriculum on the African continent. Here, activism is a tradition. France is seen as a colonial and slave power. The debate promises to be lively.
Fascination for relations between France and African countries
Aichatou Nimaga, 25, black veil over her hair, is a Malian born in the United States. “I can’t wait to hear her intentions and how she sees the future, given the political unrest in Mali and the fact that they denounce France. How are we going to fix this relationship? Aichatou, in a master’s degree in African studies and arts, “explores intersectional identity” and tries to “find her place” in the United States, as an African who “has certain privileges compared to African-Americans”. She would like to know what the Secretary of State is doing “for the Malians in France, that they feel comfortable there, that they have their place”. Chrysoula Zacharopoulou must in particular ask the World Bank to get involved in financing the fight against climate change. She notes: “Interestingly, at a conference this week, we talked about the IMF and the World Bank. A teacher said, “Do they really help or do they take back?” And also, what does she intend to do with the money raised? »
READ ALSONafissatou Dia Diouf: “Writing Africa, an act of subversion? »The clock is ticking, the noise from outside (not the students) fills the room… Olivia McDonald, a 22-year-old American with an Afro haircut, is studying international relations. She is “fascinated” by the question of relations between France and the African continent. She has not done, like some, a DNA test that traces her origins: “My family is very scattered and we do not know what tribe or what region we come from, but we assume that we are mainly Nigerians, as many enslaved Africans. I hesitate to do these tests because because of colonization, many tribes have been forced to mix, the borders have burst. I don’t really trust them because it doesn’t show your tribe, but a very large region of West or East Africa. »
For those who do not know where to place themselves, the relationship with Africa is delicate. Olivia, like Aïchatou, is part of the event’s organizing team. When asked what she expects from Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, the young woman pauses: “I try to be careful what I say…” Then: “What I understand of colonialism and the current situation in Africa is that these countries are forced to maintain a relationship of dependence with their former colonizers. I therefore hope to see how these French-speaking countries can achieve autonomy. I don’t know if that’s realistic. I don’t think that’s something the Secretary of State or France want. This is obviously why France and the European countries do not want to leave Africa: these countries have a lot to offer, in terms of resources and population. It would be nice to see what it can offer as a realistic and authentic, lasting and mutually beneficial relationship between France and Africa. »
The party takes over the campus, there are always a handful of people in the room. Ja’Tae Joyner, from Arkansas, with caramel complexion, slicked back ponytail and neatly slicked hair, reads Chrysoula Zacharopoulou’s biography. She is there because she “loves the French language” and “everything that is Francophonie, all the people who speak French”. She will be graduating with an English major this summer, which can lead her to journalism or politics. She would like to find a way to speak more French. She exclaims, “Did you hear? It’s canceled ! Apparently there aren’t enough people and that would be an insult to the French Embassy or something. Everyone disappears.
Responses from the Secretary of State
We find Chrysoula Zacharopoulou about twenty minutes by bike from there, at the residence of the ambassador, a massive Tudor and Renaissance style residence, with its small Statue of Liberty on the lawn. She is in a yellow jacket, appropriate for the climate, and speaks with an unmistakable Greek accent, in a hesitant syntax (she received French nationality in April 2022, a month before joining the Borne government). We submit the questions of the students to her, she answers cautiously. To that of Aïchatou Nimaga on the “repair of the relationship between Mali and France”, the Secretary of State objects that the term is badly chosen. It is “to simplify such a rich and historic relationship, without taking into consideration human relations, people who live in France, mixed couples, their children, the French who live in Mali…”.
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The next question, that of racism towards Malians in France, reflects the trauma of this generation, in the United States, linked to racial tensions and the assassination of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020 “These are different models of society, each has its own story,” replies Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, who recalls that President Macron has been trying to deal with ours since 2017. Distrust of the World Bank does not surprise him, she does. take the opportunity to emphasize that “global issues such as climate change, global health, the question of access to water, show that we are interdependent”.
If the responsibility of developed countries is real, she believes that African countries have the opportunity to be “the champions who create economic models applicable everywhere”. And France, which would continue to keep Africa under the colonial yoke? It is “an old vision”, from the 20th century. As for the capture of resources, “it may be necessary to approach other countries”. China, perhaps? “…Other great countries. She opposes the resources that spin there, to European standards, in terms of the fight against deforestation or rare metals. As for the Francophonie, she is delighted that she makes people want to and assumes: “When you learn a language, you adhere to a thought, to values. That’s my case. »
Chrysoula Zacharopoulou must rush to the White House, she is still asked about the trip of Kamala Harris, the vice-president, who preceded her to Ghana in March. She replies that she went to Zambia before (end of 2022) and that she wants to prevent Africa from becoming an issue between great powers. In Zambia, Kamala Harris announced 7 billion in aid to the continent, intended for the private sector and farmers. More than ten years after the Chinese offensive in Africa, it is an obvious counter-offensive, eyeing its natural resources, including the rare metals necessary for the batteries which will become crucial as the United States, where the car is king, will go electric. A good topic of debate to submit to Howard students.