At the end of his speech, during the Q&A session at the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union), a French journalist asked him what his stand on Mugabe’s dictatorship was and how dictators like Mugabe are a major threat to African integration. And this was President Chissano’s response:

“One of the biggest threats to African integration is foreign control. When I took over my turn as the Chairman of the OAU in July 2003 (right after Thabo Mbeki’s turn), in the middle of one night, I got an urgent call from the President of Benin Republic saying he was in an emergency.

I immediately thought there was a military coup, since Benin had had lots of military coups. He said: “No, it’s worse than a military coup.

The President of France has just sent a special envoy to warn me that if we don’t pay our 10% fee to France immediately, we will suffer severe consequences. The 10% is one of the 3 agreements all the Francophone countries signed with France as conditions for France granting us independence in 1960.

The 3 agreements were that: (1) We will each adopt the CFA as the common currency and it will be 100% controlled by France, (2) We will each pay France 10% of our export earnings in exchange for France securing our sovereignty and security, and (3) We will each keep our national reserves in France, and if we draw from it without France agreeing then it will be considered a loan which we will pay back to France with interest.

Now, because of some serious financial crisis that Benin is currently facing, my Cabinet and I have decided to hold off all payments to foreign governments until we get back to normal. The Special Envoy is refusing to take our explanation! So, could you please help us to mobilize the member States of the African Union to support us in this struggle with France? Please?”

Chissano said he couldn’t believe his ears. He was shocked. He then replied to the President of Benin: “My Comrade Brother President, please stand very firm. I will handle this very quickly. I’m not sure that the President of France (Jacques Chirac) will listen to me, so I will call former President Nelson Mandela whom they worship to intervene, and then get back to you.”

Chissano further said that when he called and told Nelson Mandela the story, Mandela was even more shocked than he (Chissano) was. He was flabbergasted. He immediately called President Jacques Chirac and told him this is worse than Apartheid!

Long story short: France eventually waived Benin’s payment for that year but said if Benin refused to pay for the following year and beyond, then they are to blame because it’s a binding Treaty they signed on to.

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Edited by Philip Babarinde