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French Imperialism vs. Crypto Colonialism

French Imperialism vs. Crypto Colonialism: The Central African Republic Experiment

Originally published in Silicon Icarus

The Central African Republic (CAR) recently added Bitcoin as a legal currency, tokenized natural resources, and even created a “cryptocurrency economic zone” called Sango—following in the footsteps of El Salvador. The CAR is still using its French currency (CFA franc) just like El Salvador is still using the American dollar. In addition to the crypto economic zones, CAR is also offering e-residency and citizenship by investment programs (with zero-rate tax on income and businesses) that are all being implemented to “attract investors” — the El Salvador game plan. Per the Henley & Partners website, the Citizenship by Investment programs:

“Provide families with the privilege of acquiring an alternative citizenship, which in turn gives them the right to travel freely to various destinations and to settle in another country…More than ever before, wealthy individuals are pursuing citizenship options as the most effective way to access previously unimagined opportunities.”

CAR joined the ranks of Montenegro, Grenada, and Malta on the list of countries that have Citizenship by Investment programs (for the restless and corrupt overlords to use and abuse). To be honest, the adoption of Bitcoin and tokenizing minerals seems more “political” than anything else because it doesn’t make sense, economically. Moreover, CAR only has 7.1% of the population actively using the internet. 
Financial Times accurately points out that young people in central and West Africa, “who have little trust in their governments and few opportunities to make good money, have been drawn like moths to the cryptocurrency flame.” The rest of the article is mediocre, but I do agree that the adoption of Bitcoin is more of a geopolitical or performative move than it is economic. I do find it alarming that these experiments are being piloted in countries that are reported to have some of the “lowest” standards of living or large populations of displaced people (it’s predatory). I imagine it’s most optimal to pilot this sort of infrastructure in places with very little “development” because then there is no need to transition from an established legacy system into a new one. The new system can just be built from scratch on a blank slate (like the “crypto economic zone” called Sango in CAR).

Sango Legal Framework 

As I just stated, the reason many of the projects focused on building this type of infrastructure are being piloted in small countries with very little “development” is because it is easier to build a new system than to transition an old structure into a new one. Hence why the Sango Project is a “Crypto Initiative” established by the Central African Republic National Assembly and championed by the President in order to create the proper conditions for a digital and thriving crypto-economy. As the legal framework indicates below, Sango will include an e-residency program, online business registration, zero percent income or corporate tax, digital identity recognized by official government entities, and digital ownership recognized by government institutions.

The Sango Legal Framework – source: sango.org/initiative

Digital ownership will help connect the physical world (real estate or fractional ownership) into a Metaverse representation—with extra layers for future expansion. For example, Sango Project allows users to manage their NFTs in the digital world in order to “unlock” special privileges in the physical world (like access to the marketplace, ownership, funding, and tokenization of assets). This is possible by allowing NFT minting in the Metaverse (those are the “additional layers” of business services for future expansion). Furthermore, the CAR government agreed to fully support access to the country’s natural resources such as gold, diamonds, uranium, iron ore, copper, coltan, cobalt, nickel, lithium and petroleum—to those involved in crypto projects. The tokenization of natural resources or assets is #9 on the Sango Legal Framework covered on the website.

Sango will be the first Metaverse island backed by a “material” reality. The website lists three objectives:

  1. Building directly in the heart of Africa the first legal Crypto Hub, recognized by a country’s parliament, that welcomes businesses and attracts global crypto-enthusiasts.
  2. Taking the Bitcoin legacy to the next level.
  3. Sango—The Crypto Island

These “objectives” read more like Max Keiser’s Christmas wish-list than anything resembling “fundamentals” that are supposed to act as building blocks for a solid foundation that then steers the guidelines in the legal framework of a nation’s future. “Taking Bitcoin’s legacy to the next level” is not an appropriate official “objective” when coming up with ideas to help PEOPLE in a deeply impoverished country. Absolutely preposterous. Furthermore, listing “attracting crypto-enthusiasts” as the first “objective” in a project claiming to be focused on tackling poverty in Central Africa, is an even greater abomination. What a disgrace.

Central African Backbone & NSA’s UPSTREAM Surveillance + World Bank

Cameroon and CAR finalized their plan for fiber optic interconnection in May 2022. It will be part of the Central African Backbone infrastructure that was almost completely financed by the World Bank. The Central African Backbone made me think about the NSA’s UPSTREAM Surveillance — which took place on the internet backbone, “which is the network of high-capacity cables, switches & routers that carry Americans’ domestic & international internet communications.” The CAR also founded a Digital Nation Bank, which will handle land purchases that are in bitcoin and develop a crypto wallet.

In May of 2022, the World Bank approved these two programs for the Central African Republic:

The World Bank stated that the $35 million is not for the “Sango Project” specifically, but for digital governance. They believe that the “relevant” regional institutions (the central bank and banking authorities) should remain in the driver’s seat when making these sorts of decisions. Interestingly, the World Bank and IMF did something similar when El Salvador legalized bitcoin (playing good cop/bad cop and creating confusion about their position on the matter). Seems like a tactic to entice the “anti-establishment” contrarians who will say “see, the World Bank and IMF hate crypto because it’s decentralized” and jump on board to go “against” the establishment— while still reassuring the legacy investors that this is legitimate and sound business practice.

Alex Gladstein’s “Liberation Through Crypto” Astroturfing 

I want to take a moment and highlight a gentleman named Alex Gladstein; he is a Chief Strategy Officer for Human Rights Foundation, faculty at Singularity University, and served as Vice President of Strategy for the Oslo Freedom Forum since its inception. Alex works to connect “dissidents and civil society groups with business leaders, technologists, journalists, philanthropists, policymakers, and artists to promote free and open societies.” 

Alex frequently speaks and writes about Bitcoin, and why it is a tool for liberation in the global south. Last year, he wrote an article about fighting “monetary colonialism” with cryptocurrency and open-source code. The article explored the history of France’s involvement in Africa and their monetary stronghold on fifteen nations. The article had quite a bit of useful information, but the framing was totally off from start to finish. Pointing out the “problems” is one thing, but taking those legitimate critiques in order to push a “decentralized finance revolution through blockchain and crypto” creates an even bigger issue. Take a listen to this podcast Alex did on the Lex Fridman show and count how many times you hear misdirection or false framing on almost all of the legitimately important topics he brings up — it is cognitive infiltration galore!

Source: Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule on Conspiracy Theories by David Coady. Coady criticizes Sunstein and Vermeule’s policy recommendation of “cognitive infiltration” to the U.S. government.

In this paper, Coady argues that the Sunstein and Vermeule “remedy” for “conspiracy theories” is unlikely to be effective because it’s “inconsistent with the values of liberal democracy.” Although I disagree with the framing of the paper, there is a good bit about cognitive infiltration (the Sunstein and Vermeule solution to quell conspiracy theories) which proposes that government officials (either anonymously or with false identities) infiltrate groups and organizations who engage in “conspiracy theories” in order to “undermine the crippled epistemology of believers by planting doubts about the theories.” They recommend that “government officials engage in secretive and deceptive behavior in order to stop people from believing that government officials engage in secretive or deceptive behavior” — do you see how that, on its face, doesn’t make any logical sense because then they would be doing exactly what the “conspiracy theorists” are suspecting them of doing in the first place.

I bring this up because I have reason to believe Alex Gladstein engages in a certain flavor of “cognitive infiltration” by interacting and attaching himself to people, movements, or causes that criticize “western countries” and their corrupt and unethical business practices and exploitation of the global south (these types of people are often regarded as “conspiracy theorists”). Gladstein does this in order to appear as though he is an independent actor (while backed by powerful legacy institutions) proposing a crypto “solution” to remedy the destruction caused by imperialism. He then reframes and steers the direction of these types of conversations in order to make them fit into an approved and manufactured paradigm—all while creating the illusion that he is proposing some “radical” and “anti-establishment” solution. 

Alex is probably one of the worst offenders of this type of astroturfing; especially, when it involves countries in the global south. I don’t doubt that he truly believes crypto or blockchain is a “solution,” but I don’t think he has an actual grasp on what the core problem actually is — he seems to just repeat the “leftist” critique of imperialism in the global south and then proceeds to offer the “libertarian” decentralized finance through blockchain and crypto “solution” to unsuspecting viewers and listeners (who may not pick up on his “crypto bro” talking-points and “establishment” gatekeeping). Just because he can point out and explain the (very obvious) corruption of “Western nations” and their abusive and exploitative relationship with countries in the global south, it doesn’t mean he is equipped to offer the solution. It bothers me that people like Alex adopt legitimate criticisms in order to push their own agendas. It’s not ok and I wish more people would, at the very least, acknowledge these inconsistencies and vocalize that they are a disservice to truth—even if those people believe in the “crypto for liberation” myth because, in my opinion, Alex Gladstein is “not our guy” (as John Brisson likes to say).

Felonious French Footprints in Central Africa 

The legacy of France’s presence in Africa can be traced back to the invasion of Algiers in 1830, which marked the beginning of French colonization on the African continent. In 1903, France sectioned off a piece of land in the middle of Africa, called it a colony, and referred to it as Ubangi-Shari (which was the name of the land between two basins of the Ubangi and Shari rivers)—now known as the Central African Republic.

Map on the left side is from 1906. Map on the right side is from 2018. I’ve circled the Central African Republic on both maps.

I’ve circled the Central African Republic on both maps.CAR was transformed into an “autonomous” nation in 1960—essentially, it was granted “independence” from the French Community, but it was still part of the French Empire in Africa. The term Françafrique is used to refer to the neocolonial relationship between France and the colonies. According to the French government, Françafrique was an “international relations” term that describes France’s “sphere of influence” over French and Belgian colonies in Africa. A Carnegie Mellonpaper titled Will France’s Africa Policy Hold Up? describes Françafrique as the:

“Formal and informal political, economic, and personal networks among those in France and on the continent [Africa] with common views of world politics and shared interests in Africa…This dynamic encouraged ruling elites in these newly independent countries to align their policy choices with those of France and the West. The U.S. government supported this arrangement during the Cold War to limit the Soviet Union’s geopolitical influence.”

Basically, this allowed for “African elites” to shape French views of African problems. France, now, claims to be facing “diplomatic” competition with states like China, India, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates—who have all developed partnerships with African countries because “the sway of traditional multilateral institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund is lessening.” I disagree that the World Bank and IMF influence is “lessening”—I believe they are just changing tactics and focusing on “decentralizing” in order to “fit in” with the latest buzzwords that are centered around “solutions” (to superficial problems) and then preach “liberation” through decentralized finance. I don’t believe that these institutions are going anywhere—they are actually going everywhere because they will be decentralized. Moreover, I don’t even necessarily think the people working within such institutions are the end-all-be-all “problem”—I doubt most people in the low-level managerial positions in legacy institutions even think about why they chose to work in them. They probably took those jobs because they paid decently and offered mediocre benefits.

Jacques Foccart: The French Henry Kissinger

Jacques Foccart was central to France’s sphere of influence in sub-Saharan Africa after the colonies became “independent” in the 1960’s. In fact, the French government blames Foccart’s influence and advice for their prolonged “support for Mobutu long after it was reasonable.” Coincidentally, the Mobutu Sese Seko government was overthrown just a few months after Foccart’s death. Mobutu Sese Seko became the leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after the CIA, UK, and European Intelligence plot to overthrow Patrice Lumumba. Mobutu worked as a CIA protege for ten-years before being recruited into the Francafrique elite in 1970. I want to highlight Maurice Tempelsman, a figure who is also implicated in the annihilation of Patrice Lumumba in order to install Mobutu in the DRC.

Maurice Tempelsman is still a board member at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to this very day — I mention him when talking about AGOA in this piece I wrote a few months ago. In this post, I want to emphasize Tempelsman’s ties to De Beers Diamonds—he worked with De Beers since the 1960s; helping the company make exclusive deals with African countries. Founded in 1888, De Beers is an infamous diamond trader known for corruption & exploitation scandals all over Africa. Recently, in a move to “revive their public image” on the global stage, De Beers started tracking their diamonds on blockchain in order to “enhance consumer confidence and public trust” about the company. And although De Beers Group introduced the world’s first blockchain-backed diamond source platform at scale; another player in the “industrial commodities on blockchain” hustle is a company called MineSpider founded by Nathan Williams—here is their white paper (titled Protocol for Due Diligence in the Raw Material Supply Chain). MineSpider is partnered with Rwandan tin producer LuNa Smelter and Google to develop “a blockchain-based tool, OreSource, to help miners and smelters track data about the mineral’s production process.” In March of 2022, MineSpider secured a contract with a private equity firm (Integra Group) in Nicarágua—they will use blockchain verification in tracing responsibly sourced gold from mining operations in Peru.

As the Economist reported in 1997, Foccart was the master manipulator who kept “these countries [African countries] in line at a time when Africa was swirled by anti-colonialist passions.” How nice. Jacques Chirac, the president of France from the 90’s until 2007, often consulted with Foccart on African issues. Foccart created a series of cooperation accords that covered political, economic, military, and cultural sectors with former French colonies in Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, and Spanish Equatorial Guinea.

The Ministry of Cooperation became the headquarters for France’s new system of influence in Africa. By the early 1990’s, the geographical domain of the Ministry of Cooperation “covered 37 nation states, obtained successively in small increments.” As this 1997 article from the National Interest highlights, “the whole ensemble was put under a new Ministry of Cooperation, created in 1961, separate from the Ministry of Overseas Departments and Territories that had previously run them all.” In the late 90’s, President Chirac (with Alain Juppé as Prime Minister) merged the Ministry of Cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

France’s “War on Terror” 

France has also played a pivotal role in quelling “jihadist extremism” and “civil unrest” in sub-Saharan Africa—currently, they are heavily involved in Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad (all part of the fraudulent and global “war on terror”). French involvement in Mali is a large operation that involves ground troops and French special forces. Chad has experienced the largest number of French military interventions since its independence. French troops have played a role in Chad since 1986 — Operation Épervier lasted from 1986–2014 (it was launched to protect Hissène Habré from Libyan backed forces). Hissène Habré (who France protected for many years) was convicted of crimes against humanity in 2016 — there is a much larger conversation to be had about why the International Criminal Court (ICC) only ever convicts African leaders; but regardless, even by the “establishment” standards, this is not a good look for France.

France has over 1,500 troops in Djibouti—those “security forces” also partake in operations in Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ivory Coast. In Côte d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, France has been consistently present since 2002 when they intervened (via Opération Licorne or Operation Unicorn) in what was reported to be a civil war. France was also behind the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya during the Arab Spring—the French position was somehow more hawkish than the U.S. and U.K. but we only ever hear about Hillary Clinton or “the disaster in Benghazi” when Libya is discussed. This does not excuse Hillary Clinton, but I just find it fascinating how much (readily available) information is missed when issues are made about big personalities rather than deep, honest, and critical analyses of available and accessible information. 

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative or EITI, was launched by Tony Blair at the South Africa World Summit on Sustainable Development in September of 2002. EITI claims to promote and support government transparency in resource-rich countries by encouraging them to audit and publish all transactions and revenues from oil, gas, and mining that involve corporations or governments. EITI works with Revenue Watch Institute or RWI, which is part of Open Society. RWI has been involved in the internationalization and implementation of the EITI since the EITI’s inception. EITI reports to have been launched with two main objectives

  1. To disclose and reconcile extractive industries revenues paid to and received by governments 
  2. To promote and strengthen the multi-stakeholder dialogue approach.

The countries that implement the EITI standards have to make sure that mining and oil companies release the names of all legal owners (even if it “politically” exposes them). The Central African Republic has been on the “path” to acceptance by the EITI since October of 2021. 
The Central African Republic had to make several changes (per EITI recommendations); and, from my estimation, that is why CAR is now tokenizing their minerals—to show the EITI that they are taking steps to be more “transparent” and open. The FinTech industry had been pitching blockchain technology as a means to provide “a holistic platform to address ownership transparency on a transaction-by-transaction basis” for EITI compliance and “sustainability” in mining. This paper titled, Implementing EITI for Impact Handbook explains the Extractive Industries or EI Value Chain as the processes by which natural resources are “effectively and efficiently” leveraged.

Revenue Watch Institute

As I stated previously, the Revenue Watch Institute (RWI) – launched in 2002 as an extension of the Open Society Institute—, became an independent organization in 2006. RWI is heavily involved in the development of civil society capacity in over twenty resource-rich countries by providing financial and technical training (mostly in “third world” nations with high levels of poverty, conflict, and corruption). In 2013, the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) was established through the merger of the Revenue Watch Institute and the Natural Resource Charter. The NRGI 2020–2025 Strategy paper indicates that they are active in applied research studies, data analytics, policy advocacy, capacity development, and technical assistance. NRGI also supports civil society organizations, government institutions, the private sector, and the media (including training journalists in NRGI country programs) — with regard to natural resource governance. The diagram below is NRGI’s visual representation of their Theory of Change.

According to the NRGI Theory of Change, they target countries with governments that are open to reform and influence—where “accountability actors” (civil society groups) support their efforts. And even though they have more influence in early stages of a nation’s natural resource development, they are also addressing weaknesses in countries that have much older (legacy) extractive sectors. NRGI works with influential states, regional bodies, multilateral organizations, multi-stakeholder initiatives, and industry actors to develop international norms and standards. At the international level, “NRGI engages external influencers who…appear predisposed to receive and adopt NRGI’s evidence-based messaging.” Whenever “evidence-based” or “outcome-based” are mentioned in any institutional or corporate white papers or articles, they are usually talking about social impact investing. I have written about impact investing and human capital here and here if anyone is interested in understanding why it’s something worth highlighting and vital to keep in mind. 

Conclusion 

I am writing this piece to illustrate a few points; first of all, the “Sango Project” being implemented by the government of the Central African Republic has nothing to do with “tackling poverty”—it is simply a scheme to tokenize the nation’s minerals in order to more easily extract as many natural resources as possible—but in a “transparent” fashion. The crypto and blockchain advocates don’t seem to understand that transparency does not mean accountability. If the same corrupt ghouls are running the “transparent” and “decentralized” system, then the corporations and people who have always been doing the exploiting will continue to do so (just more creatively).

Second, even though the World Bank and all of the other legacy institutions are trying to make it seem like they have less “influence” than they once did, that is actually false. They have the same amount of influence as they’ve always had, they are just covertly decentralizing their operations and selling it to naive and (mostly) well-meaning people as a new and unique path to a crypto-liberation-utopia. It’s the same way the French gave African countries their “independence” from France in the 1960’s; then Jacques Foccart swept in with his cooperation accords that covered political, economic, military, and cultural sectors with former French colonies. Although France began decolonization in 1956, in 1958 the French constitution established La Communauté (The Community)—a political association between France and its colonial empire. This was marketed as “independence” but it was a superficial spectacle because their monetary system was tied to French and European central banks; therefore, the future of their economies were dictated by France (much of Africa still uses the CFA franc). 

Third, I discussed the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) because it is an international regulatory organization that was launched in 2002 by Tony Blair in South Africa. The EITI is tied to organizations like the Open Society Institute and claims to promote and support government transparency in resource-rich countries. I found it peculiar that the Central African Republic got on the path to reinstatement by the EITI in October of 2021 and then immediately began making changes (per EITI recommendations). It seems like CAR made the decision to tokenize its minerals in order to show the EITI that they are taking steps to be more “transparent” and open. Like I said, these decisions don’t just come out of nowhere with zero influence from multilateral institutions. 

Last, it upsets me that figures like Alex Gladstein incorporate legitimate criticisms about the horrors of colonialism in the global south into their analysis and then proceed to offer “decentralized finance through blockchain and crypto” as the solution in order to push their own agendas. And unfortunately, many who consume that content don’t pick up on his “crypto hustler” rhetoric or his “establishment” gatekeeping—because that is what he does.

Figures like Alex Gladstein make it incredibly difficult to have truthful conversations grounded in clarity and deep research about the topic of cryptocurrency or blockchain. Because they add so much unnecessary confusion and semi-information, one must first debunk and correct the framing (and premise), before proceeding to the actual “meat and potatoes” of the topic.

Peace and blessings.


More from this Writer

Sebs Solomon is an independent observer of phenomenons around the world. She regularly posts her writing on her Medium blog, *gnomes4truth*, where you can find anything from her analysis of the harm caused by AFRICOM to a breakdown on the narrative and psychological warfare being waged on all human beings. She also has a YouTube channel called *Doom&Gloom* with her friend and research partner, Aly Alexandra–where they discuss a wide variety of topics from a lens grounded in genuine honesty and clarity.

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