Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

The Postcoloniality of Europe’s Internal Security Industry in Africa


Eva Magdalena Stambøl
Leonie Jegen


Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by By Eva Magdalena Stambøl and Leonie Jegen. Eva is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, University of Oslo and the Center for Transnational Relations, Foreign and Security Policy, Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science, Free University of Berlin. Leonie is a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research of the University of Amsterdam and an ALMA Fellow at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute. This is the fifth post of Border Criminologies’ themed series on 'Postcoloniality and Forced Migration' organised by Eva Magdalena Stambøl, Sharla M. Fett, Nina Sahraoui, Martin Lemberg-Pedersen and Lucy Mayblin.

 This blogpost, based on our chapter in the edited collection Postcoloniality and Forced Migration, investigates how the historical intertwinement between colonialism, corporate interests and policing is mirrored in the current ways that Europe attempts to control migration from West Africa. We first consider the role of public-private relationships and surveillance during and in the aftermath of French colonization, before exploring the case of Civipol, a French company specializing in the capacity-building of African countries’ internal security co-owned by the French state and major security companies. Civipol has gained a prominent role as a main implementing partner of European Union (EU) external aid funds to control mobility in and from Africa – especially in former French colonies. Our account is based on data gathered during fieldwork in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Ghana and EU institutions in Brussels 2017-19, online research, and secondary historical sources.

We argue that the blurring between state and corporate interests is a key colonial continuity in current European policing of mobility in Africa. Two concepts help us make sense of the operation of French control during colonization, continued French hegemony after formal African decolonization, as well as present-day European border externalization to Africa: ‘revolving credit’ and ‘revolving doors’. ‘Revolving credit’, a notion first coined by anti-colonial pan-African thinker and first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, refers to the circulation of capital and aid monies from the metropoles, through the (formerly) colonized territories and back to the metropoles. ‘Revolving doors’ refers here to the circulation of key personalities between public office, internal security, and industry.

The French colonial army in Fort Bonnier, Tombouctou, today’s Mali
The French colonial army in Fort Bonnier, Tombouctou, today’s Mali (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tombouctou-Revue_%C3%A0_l%27int%C3%A9rieur_du_fort_Bonnier_(AOF).jpg)

Corporate interests and policing in French colonization

Early French colonialism since the Ancien régime (15th century till the French Revolution in 1789) manifested itself as mercantilism for nearly 300 years, dominated by chartered monopolies with trading posts along the West African coast. Colonialism was then mainly profitable for these trading companies whose monopolies were enforced by the French state. French control in Africa then evolved since the 1860s from a pure ‘commercial colonialism’ to an ‘imperial colonialism’ that now came to include military intervention and a moral imperative – the civilizing mission. This new phase of colonialism coincided with French transition to industrial capitalism that gave an impetus to empire-building. The African colonies came to play a more important role in the development of French industry and economy, among others, through the extraction of raw materials.

French policing of order in its African territories was often directly tied to industry and commerce, and the modes and intensity of surveillance and repression were intertwined with the political economy of each colony. While policing was initially a task for the military, civilian administration and police bodies developed gradually with a high level of decentralization and autonomy. Research by historian Martin Thomas has highlighted that all European colonial governments used police across Africa to ensure economic extraction, land appropriation, tax collection, and suppression of worker dissent – including the maintenance of order on plantations, mines and processing plants, some of which were ran by private European companies. Emmanuel Blanchard has moreover uncovered that the understaffing and underfunding of the French colonial police, who were tasked with controlling vast territories, led them to use anthropometric identification techniques for the surveillance of populations and mobility, like forcing people to have an ID, being fingerprinted, and taking part in other forms of census-taking and registration. As we will see, similar surveillance techniques – including now also biometric ones – are developed and implemented by European companies to control mobility in Africa today.

French hegemony after African decolonization

After the decolonization of African countries in the 1960s, France developed ‘special relationships’ with many new state leaders to retain its zone of influence. Politically, this happened through formal and informal networks centered around Charles de Gaulle’s ‘Monsieur Afrique’, Jacques Foccart, encompassing public as well as private bodies, personalities and companies, including the French secret police. Militarily, France remained the ‘security guarantor’ of its former colonies with military bases and pre-positioned forces on West African soil. Economically, the zone of the West and Central African currency, the CFA Franc, has maintained the dependency of former French colonies on the metropole and favored the economic interests of France, among others, through centralizing African reserves, maintaining a right to veto in African central banks and indexing the CFA Franc on the euro. As argued by Bruno Charbonneau, French development aid to Africa has been circulated through Africa and sent back to France through the contracting of French companies in Africa. We show how such ‘revolving credit’ now also encompasses the recycling of EU aid – especially that channeled to mobility control and internal security concerns.

Civipol and its role in European border externalization

Created in 2001, Civipol is the technical cooperation operator of the French Ministry of Interior. It is a private company co-owned by the French state (40%) and the major security companies Thales, Airbus, Morpho and Défense Conseil International. One of Civipol’s stated missions is promoting the security industry sector. Key personalities in Civipol’s decision making bodies have held shifting roles in French Ministries, internal security and intelligence bodies, and the security industry. Some Civipol staff have also circulated from Paris to Brussels to administer EU aid monies.

Civipol has been an agenda-setter for EU border externalization policies since 2003 and has been pushing for framing migration-related challenges in a security focused language. Civipol is one of the most funded implementing partners of the EU Trust Fund for Africa, and implemented EU security projects in former French colonies in Africa worth 212 million euro according to our calculations in late 2020. This aligns with the company’s motto: “Those who join us do so with a conviction that internal security is also built externally”. Projects include the training of police and gendarmes to combat transnational organized crime–especially ‘migrant smuggling’, technical support to intelligence, customs and border control. The company also builds biometric civil registry databases and civil registration systems in African countries for the purposes of controlling the mobility of African migrants allegedly bound for Europe.

To conclude, we observe that EU development aid to Africa is not only increasingly channeled to internal security and mobility control concerns, but also serves the purpose of reviving European development and security industries, which are becoming incrementally intertwined.  This allows for ‘revolving credit’: the circulation of aid and capital from Europe, through European companies in Africa, and back to Europe – just like during colonization and after formal decolonization.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

E. Stambøl and L. Jegen. (2023) The Postcoloniality of Europe’s Internal Security Industry in Africa. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2023/05/postcoloniality-europes-internal-security-industry. Accessed on: 20/04/2024

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