When do empires die? The late François-Xavier Verschave, economist and founder of the pressure group Survie, coined the term Françafrique to denote the Fifth Republic’s suffocating relation to its former African colonies. The pun – France a fric – was intended. With Jacques Chirac on trial for municipal corruption while mayor of Paris, the Franco-Lebanese lawyer Robert Bourgi has alleged that the ex-president and his Gaullist sidekick Dominique de Villepin helped themselves to some $20 million in bungs from African dictators between 1995 and 2005. Both men have denied the allegations and issued writs. Chirac has pleaded memory loss to avoid having to show his face at the corruption trial, but remembers enough to know that Bourgi’s allegations are false in all details.
Basil Davidson, who died last week at the age of 95, was a regular contributor to the LRB during the 1990s. In a generous sheaf of pieces, many of them reviews, he drew on his experiences as a member of Special Operations Executive during the war and his subsequent fascination with Africa. He was fond of exposition and argument, but his writing could be pithy too. On the postcolonial state in Africa: ‘a constitutional garbage can of shattered loyalties’. On Milosevic and the break-up of Yugoslavia: ‘the Chetniks . . . have appeared once more.' On intrepid writers pursuing their quarry in distant places: ‘Those who wander in the great forests of the African tropics do not always manage, like Conrad’s storyteller, to make it home again.’