Editor’s note: WPR’s editor-in-chief, Judah Grunstein, was quoted by the Associated Press in the run-up to French President François Hollande’s trip to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, this weekend to attend the Francophonie Summit. The following is the full, lightly edited version of his emailed comments.
Almost every French president enters office promising to reset relations with Africa, and in particular to put an end to the historical postcolonial system based on corruption and clientelism, with little regard to democracy and human rights. Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, declared the same thing, and actually managed to update most of the defense treaties France has in Africa, which dated back to the immediate postcolonial period. However, Sarkozy was also accused of being arrogant and insensitive to the "new Africa" and Africans, particularly after his speech in Dakar in 2007, when he said that Africans “had not fully entered history.”
The challenge for a French president in managing relations with Africa is twofold: finally weaning ties off of the existing patronage networks, which are, after all, very lucrative; and actually promoting democracy and respect for human rights without being perceived in Africa as arrogant, paternalistic and hypocritical.
For a Socialist president like Hollande, the challenge is amplified in terms of French domestic perceptions, as the French left places a greater emphasis on the role of France as a global advocate and defender of human rights in the world. Sarkozy could talk about "modernizing" relations with Africa. Hollande probably feels more pressure to "moralize" them.