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

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