Sarkozy’s Africa Policy Shift

The BBC Sept. 26:

Nicolas Sarkozy became French president in May promising “rupture” on every possible issue – and he made clear that the old corrupt ties with former African colonies were among the items to be ditched.
During the campaign he called for a “healthier relationship” with Africa. The message was reaffirmed during Mr Sarkozy’s first presidential trip to the continent in July – when he called for a new “partnership between equal nations” – and again during the current UN General Assembly in New York.

In the clearest indication yet that Paris’s Africa policy was no longer focused on its French-speaking backyard, Mr Sarkozy chaired a Security Council meeting on African crises, and presented plans for international humanitarian intervention in Darfur and Somalia.

Putting aside old rivalries, he also said that it was “good news” that other major powers, such the US and China, also took an interest in Africa.

This suggest a sharp contrast with France’s traditional policy in Africa, which was deeply defensive and aimed at preserving a sphere of influence on a continent which former French Foreign Minister Jean Sauvagnargues called “the only place in the world where France can single-handedly influence policy”.

This policy – derogatively called “Francafrique” and epitomised by Mr Sarkozy’s immediate predecessors Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac – was in many ways an extension of colonial rule.

For a more in-depth looks at this issue, see this WPR commentary by Michelle Sieff two days prior:

Since taking office, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has articulated a new paradigm to structure Western engagement with Africa. This paradigm dispels the idea that Africa is a sick and helpless continent for the West to rescue and instead calls for robust European-African partnerships to manage Africa’s genuine challenges of violence, poverty, and corruption. True to his reputation as a man of action, Sarkozy has already transformed these ideas into practical policies, and the result has been a flurry of promising and innovative diplomatic initiatives concerning Africa over the past two months, especially vis-à-vis the ongoing tragedy in Darfur. If one takes Sarkozy at his word, this is only the beginning, for he hopes to reform international institutions to facilitate a far more vigorous Western engagement with Africa, based on the principle of partnership, not paternalism.

During the presidential campaign, Sarkozy pledged a “rupture” with ” la Francafrique” — the basis of France’s traditional relations with Africa, marked by personal ties with the ruling, corrupt elites of its former colonies. At the end of July, Sarkozy made his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president and stopped in Senegal and Gabon.

Sarkozy elaborated his vision for Africa in a speech to students at the elite Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar. The speech was long — 45 minutes — and affected a pedagogical tone, with Sarkozy repeatedly chanting the phrase “I am not here to” do this or that, followed by incantations of “I am here to” do so and so. It was replete with philosophical ideas, history lessons, and literary allusions.

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