The difficulty of saying "No"

Former colonial masters return in a new disguise, say pro-democracy activists in Cameroon. A company belonging to French billionaire Vincent Bolloré reigns the economy and transport of Cameroon. Bolloré erected his African empire on the ruins of colonial power. He has been extremely successful when the ports of the coastline of Guinean Bay and the Cameroonian rail were privatized. A near monopoly in the transport sector is worth gold in a region of fabulous natural resources. Bolloré is a close acquaintance of French president Nicolas Sarkozy whose holiday on Bolloré’s luxury yacht caused outrage. Among his influential friends Bolloré also has president of Cameroon Paul Biya who has lead the country since 1982. “African leaders will think twice before saying no to Bolloré", said Africa analyst Antoine Glaser. But pro-democracy activists in Cameroon want the Bolloré group out of the country. A French organization, Survie, has accused the company of secret bargaining in corrupt countries like Cameroon. The company has denied the allegations. We asked what is the legacy of Françafrique system and its multilayered networks of influence that once used to involve stakeholders of French development and cooperation policies, army officers who had served in Africa and powerful businessmen like Bolloré. We also heard why trade unions were furious about the workers’ conditions. While the company also has a role in controversial palm oil business, environmental groups worry about the consequence of expansive industrial farming to indigenous people.
Published in Helsingin Sanomat in 2010.

photos by rohith s. katbamna