It’s Time for the Financial Times to Retire the Adjective Phrase — Former Colonial Power

6 min readAug 9, 2023


Dear Financial Times,

Two years ago, I wrote a letter to the Financial Times urging it to refrain from using the term “The poorest nation in the Americas” repeatedly to describe Haiti. Two years later, I am compelled to write another letter recommending the FT discontinue using the phrase “Former colonial power” to describe France and other colonialists when referencing their relationship with African countries.

Over the years, the FT intentionally or unintentionally has used the adjective phrase consistently to describe France. In a piece captioned “France to Evacuate EU Citizens from Niger after military coup”, published in the 1 August 2023 edition of the Financial Times, Sarah White, Aanu Adeoye and Henry Foy, reporting from London, Lagos and Brussels, respectively, wrote, “The junta accused former colonial power France of trying to orchestrate a military operation to rescue Bazoum, which Paris denies.” Donato Paolo Mancini wrote in an article titled, “Niger closes airspace as regional deadline to reinstate president expires”, published on 7 August 2023, “Former colonial power France said over the weekend it backed Ecowas’ efforts to end the coup but did not specify if that included supporting the use of force.” In a piece headlined “Russia reduces number of Syrian and Wagner troops in Libya,” published on 28 April 2022, Samer Al- Atrush and Laura Pitel wrote, “In countries such as the Central African Republic and Mali, the Kremlin has seized on widespread resentment at former colonial power France to bolster its influence, with Libya acting as a hub for its deployments in the continent.”

After ECOWAS threatened the Niger government with military action, Aanu Adeoye, in a news story headlined “West African leaders get tough on Niger with threat of military action”, wrote, “One analyst who recently visited Niger said former colonial power France would not oppose an Ecowas intervention while being extremely wary of direct action.” On 23 January 2023, Mr Adeoye wrote in an article headlined Burkina Faso announces French military task force has left the country, “Burkina Faso and France signed an agreement in 2018 that allowed the former colonial power to fight the Isis and al- Qaeda- linked terror groups that control vast swaths of the country.” Adeoye used the phrase again in an article captioned Senegal opposition leader sentenced to prison despite rape acquittal published on 1 June 2023. He wrote, “Sonko has accused France, the former colonial power, of conspiring against his candidacy.” On 31 January 2022, Neil Munshi, in an article titled, Mali expels French ambassador over ‘outrageous remarks’ wrote, “Mali has expelled France’s ambassador to Bamako as relations between the military junta ruling the west African country and the former colonial power continue to deteriorate.” In a piece headlined Spying allegations strain Morocco’s ties with France, Heba Saleh and Leila Abboud noted on 25 July 2021, “France, the former colonial power, counts Rabat as a close ally in the fight against jihadism and is Morocco’s biggest trade partner.” Victor Mallet and Neil Munshi wrote on 10 June 2021 in an article titled, France to cut back military operations in Sahel. “Many politicians and ordinary citizens remain suspicious of their former colonial power, which maintains strong cultural, economic, diplomatic and political influence in Africa.”

In a piece captioned Russian mercenaries leave trail of destruction in the Central African Republic, Neil Munshi and Max Seddon reported on 22 October 2021, “The deployment has given Russia a foothold in the region, seizing on widespread resentment at former colonial power France and using it as a template for its expansion into other troubled neighbouring countries such as Mali.” On 11 June 2021, Danny Leigh wrote in an article titled African cinema’s undersung auteurs rediscovered, “1968 was a tumultuous year across the world — Senegal and its former colonial power France included.” As far back as 14 November 2004, Michael Peel and John Thornhill reported in a piece captioned West African leaders back embargo in Ivory Coast, “President Jacques Chirac of France, the former colonial power whose citizens and troops in Ivory Coast were the target of mass loyalist protests last week, came close to suggesting that Paris would look to remove Mr Gbagbo from power if the situation continued to deteriorate.”

While the adjective phrase — former colonial power is used predominately to describe France’s relationship with African countries, there are a few instances where FT has used it to describe other participants at the Berlin Conference of 1884. In a piece titled War brews in Western Sahara as Trump strikes Morocco-Israel deal, Heba Saleh wrote on 11 December 2020, “About 600,000 people live in Western Sahara, a desert roughly the size of the UK. When Spain, the former colonial power, withdrew from the territory in 1975, Morocco took it over.” In a piece captioned DR Congo leader rules out deploying Russian mercenaries to quell rebels, David Pilling and Andres Schipani wrote, “The DRC would rely on “our usual traditional partners”, including Belgium, the former colonial power, “to train, to reinforce our capacities and the capacities of our army”, he said.” David Pilling, in his write-up, Can João Lourenço cure Angola of its crony capitalism? noted on 9 July 2019, “While a wealthy elite prospered, living a glamorous lifestyle on Luanda’s Riviera-style Atlantic coast or snapping up property and assets in Portugal, the former colonial power, the majority of Angolans live on less than $2 a day.”

The use of the degrading phrase is pervasive throughout the Financial Times. Irrespective of the author’s race, position, and location — former colonial power is the go-to phrase. Irrespective of the section in the Financial Times, the go-to term is — former colonial power, whether in the News in-Depth, African politics, Inside Business, FT Series, FT View, FT Magazine, The Big Read, Global Insight, or Lunch with the FT.

FT’s obsession with the adjective phrase — former colonial power comes across as robotic. It makes me wonder if there is an AI-powered algorithm that ensures that once an author types France onto the keyboard, the phrase — former colonial power automatically appears. Admittedly, there could be instances where the term is used, but I am sure you would agree that FT has overused the word. A one-off use of the phrase is understandable, but when it is regurgitated time over time, it suggests something more sinister is at stake.

Besides sounding robotic, the adjective phrase is demeaning to African countries. It plays into the white supremacist logic that the West (white world) is mighty, and the rest of the world (Africa in particular) is weak. Rather than using the phrase as a badge to shame the colonialists, the FT appears to be using it as a badge to honour key players at the Berlin Conference. The FT should ask itself why the term predominantly applies in reference to African countries (around 95% of the cases). In an article about an event between the United Kingdom and Australia, would an FT journalist refer to Britain as a former colonial power?

Instead of the FT sounding robotic, dwelling in the past and demeaning African countries through its never-ending use of the phrase, perhaps it could spice up its approach. It could begin by tweaking its AI-powered algorithm generator to replace “former colonial power” with the phrase “neo-colonial predator.” Then, the FT would be able to describe the USA as the Greatest Neo-Colonial Predator of all Time (GNPOAT). For instance, “Many analysts said the US, the greatest neo-colonial predator of all times, helped South Korean chipmakers by hampering the progress of their Chinese competitors.” It could describe Britain for what it really is by writing: “During his tenure as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, the former slaveholding, slave owning and slave trading predator, offered a home in the UK to millions of eligible Hong Kongers.”

Finally, it is high time the Financial Times retires the adjective phrase — former colonial power which has no relevance in the 21st century. The Editorial Team could develop a more respectful style guide that provides guidelines on describing the West’s relationship with the countries it historically exploited. But if the FT chooses to wax in colonial nostalgia, it should describe colonialism for what it is — a blot on the West’s conscience and humanity.


Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA


August 2023