Tuesday, 27 February 2007

A 'new and cleaner' Françafrique

Rue de la Verrerie
Paris 75004

Dear Africa Confidentialers,

This week's letter strikes a Francophone note. Last week France's President Jacques Chirac welcomed more than 30 African leaders to Cannes for the France-Africa summit and the 2 March edition of Africa Confidential will carry a full report of the summit and the changing shape of French policy on the continent. There is the other matter of France's presidential elections due in April, which mark the pass/ing of a political era.

Personifying that era is President Chirac, who has been a fixture on the political scene for over three decades. But over the past five years, Chirac has lost power within the ruling Union pour un Mouvement Populaire that he helped to form. His ambitious but diminutive (Napoleonic in stature) Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has seized control of the party and is now standing ­ - against Chirac's wishes ­ - presidency.

Chirac's politics were forged in the heydays of the Françafrique policy, a complex network of political and business deals between politicians in metropolitan France and ruling parties in their former colonies in Africa. Essentially, corrupt business deals in Africa helped finance French political parties; similar things happen in Britain and the United States of course, but in France the system was much more brazen. French officials insist that Françafrique is dead and buried. Almost everyone admits that France's Africa policy needs reform, and Africa as an election issue will loom larger in France than any other Western country. Candidate Sarkozy has attacked Chirac's failure to reform relations with Africa. He called for a 'new and cleaner relationship' with Africa when he visited Benin and Mali last year. In Bamako, Sarkozy stated baldly: 'Economically, France no longer needs Africa.'

Sarkozy is not a sympathetic politician. His hard line during the violent clashes in French cities in November 2005 infuriated French citizens of African and Arab descent. He made matters worse by referring to the protesters as 'une racaille' (meaning rabble or scum), which they took as a racist insult. Undeterred, Sarkozy takes a tough line on race, culture and immigration. 'France, you either you love it or you leave it,' he told a television interviewer last year.

The main challenger facing Sarkozy is Ségolène Royal, presidential candidate for the leftist Parti Socialiste. An elegant mother of four, Royal talks a lot about family and the environment but is yet to make clear her differences with Sarkozy on Françafrique, race and immigration. Although Royal was born in Senegal in 1953, she has had little to do with Africa policy or foreign policy in general.

When Royal returned to Dakar last year, she pledged to do more to develop solar energy technologies for the benefit of Africa and to boost French aid to the continent. As a politician on the left, she appeals more to African and Arab voters but she has offered little alternative to Sarkozy's hard stance on immigration.

Neither Royal nor Sarkozy put in an appearance at Chirac's final extravagant France-Africa summit on 15-16 February in the sumptuous Mediterranean resort of Cannes that discussed 'Africa and the world equilibrium'. The older generation of African leaders such as Gabon's Omar Bongo, Congo-Brazzaville's Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Cameroon's Paul Biya bid a tearful farewell to Chirac while wondering what to make of his potential successors.

Our correspondent was in Cannes for the summit and will present an in-depth analysis of the meeting and the coming era in French policy in our next issue, published on Friday 2 March.

Meanwhile, in our current issue you'll find an exclusive interview with Malawi's ex-President Bakili Muluzi and inside reports on: Cyril Ramaphosa's pitch for South Africa's presidency; who's who in the new government in Congo-Kinshasa; the divisions over candidates in Kenya's opposition alliance; women's political progress in South Africa; rebel commanders' attempt to organise a conference in Sudan's Darfur province; Guinea's President Lansana Conté's ongoing battles with the opposition; the lacklustre reshuffle in Zimbabwe and an exclusive report on the toxic waste dumping in Côte d'Ivoire.

Yours confidentially

Turning out to vote in Senegal

Voting was colourful in the city of Thies, 70 km to the east of Dakar and Senegal's second most populous city. Men and women, young and old, turned out after mosque prayers in their hundreds at Kaba Sall primary school to exercise their right at the ballot box, waiting for several hours in the midday sun in queues that snaked round the campus courtyard.

A common complaint was that people have yet to feel the trickle down of the 4-5% economic growth that the country has been averaging since President Abdoulaye Wade's crushing victory in 2000 - a sentiment made more acute when coupled with the rising costs of living and stagnating wages. Wade's famed 'grand' infrastructure projects, including a super highway and a new airport, don't fill bellies.

Senegal's electorate is increasingly dominated by its politically conscious youth: 'More and more young people are voting, it is they that have the future, it is they that can work the computers and have information,' said Pap, 43 years old and an employee of Senelec, the electricity parastatal. 'Many of our leaders have been with us since Independence', he said referring to the 81-year-old Wade. 'It is time for a new epoque.' Abou Deng, a 19-year-old female student voting for her first time, agreed: 'I am voting for change.'

The sheer throng of people out to vote dispelled the nervousness of the past few days. Saturday night in Dakar was uncharacteristically quiet, the streets were subdued and the many usually thriving restaurants and bars were closed. This is the hometown of Wade's principal challenger and once trusted lieutenant, Idrissa Seck. Political tensions were raised on Thursday after Seck's convoy was attacked in the capital by supporters of a local Marabout, an ally of Wade, who hurled rocks at his Hummer jeep. Several of Seck's staff were injured but the challenger himself sped away unharmed. Seck told Africa Confidential on Sunday that the incident was an assassination attempt ordered by Wade.

Turnout was high across the country, with early results giving the President a lead and indicating a strong showing by the formerly governing Parti Socialiste. On Monday, Wade's staff briefed journalists that Wade had already won. Premature pronouncements only heighten suspicion surrounding the President - and raise the spectre of further violence. None of the [unofficial] opinion polls gave Wade a first round victory. Socialist candidate Ousmane Tanor Dieng says that he has evidence of a 'plan of fraud' initiated by President Wade - an accusation seconded by Idrissa Seck. The full results will not be out until at least late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

High drama at the summit

Farringdon Road,
London EC1

Dear Confidentialers,

One of those historical weeks in Africa has just gone by: summits and summitry in Addis Ababa, political intrigue unravels in Abuja, a peacekeeping force is readied for Mogadishu, China's President Hu Jintao embarks on a 10-day swing through Africa, while Guinea's military President wobbles under the weight of a two-week general strike.

It was high drama at the African Union summit in Addis when heads of state blocked Sudan's bid for the Chairmanship of the organisation and instead elected Ghana's President John Kufuor. Insiders say that there was no question of Sudan getting the chair: it is ruled out by the Khartoum government's policies in Darfur and the AU's deployment of a peacekeeping mission there. The real mystery was why Khartoum thought it was even worth trying to get the chair, having failed to do so last year when it was hosting the summit.

There were other sparky moments, when Presidents Idris Déby Itno of Chad and Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir of Sudan traded insults on the last day of the summit, but no great leaps forward on the substantial issues of organising a rapid deployment force for the AU or remodelling its grandiose but under-performing New Partnership for Africa's Development.

There were more dramas - and tragically more casualties - in Conakry, where a general strike pressured President Lansana Conté to hand back some of his powers to an as yet-to-be named new prime minister. The frenzied politics within and outside the military in Conakry show that although Conté may be on the ropes, he is certainly not planning to retire soon.

Frenzied also applies to the climate in Nigerian politics as the confrontation worsens between President Olusegun Obasanjo and his estranged deputy Atiku Abubakar. Obasanjo's circle insist that Atiku will be out of the race for the presidency within a month; Abubakar's circle say their man will fight on and win. That clamour has drowned out the frontrunners in the elections: Umaru Yar'Adua and Muhammadu Buhari. This week we have a profile of Buhari, following our analysis of Yar'Adua's chances in our previous issue.

With Hollywood's take on Africa - The Last King of Scotland (Uganda) and Blood Diamond (Sierra Leone) - still pulling in the crowds, we devote our analysis section to an investigation of the diamond trade across Africa and find that smuggling, corruption and human rights abuses are the biggest problems today. Our correspondents discover just how easy it is for the determined crook to circumvent the controls put in place under the industry-backed Kimberley Process.

And in the economy section, you'll find a list of Africa's top 30 listed companies (not including the mega-markets of South Africa or North Africa) and the story behind the current exuberance of African equities.

To round off the edition, the pointers section offers a couple of scoops on how the World Bank's anti-corruption rhetoric conflicts with its operations in Mozambique and why the British government drew up and then suspended a US$195,000 project to assist Sudanese militia leader Minni Minnawi.

I'm heading off for North Africa this evening but the next issue of Africa Confidential will be out next week with lots of coverage of South Africa, Congo-Kinshasa and Zimbabwe.

Until then, yours confidentially