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Vol 40 No 15

Published 23rd July 1999

Totally elfin

The company which dominated many African economies may soon be transformed

For many years, the oil company Elf Aquitaine provided the motive, and the excuse, for French policies in Africa. It was founded by President Charles de Gaulle during decolonisation in the early 1960s as a political instrument. It dealt with African governments and then France had to keep them in power. Presidential visits were organised around its deals, scores of less august fixers were hired to make the deals work. Nevertheless, international capitalism and the drive to 'globalisation' has caught up even with Elf. When it was transformed into a private company, its time was up - or almost, for the French government still holds a 'golden share' (right of veto). In the competitive race, its profits failed to match those of its competitors.

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