Sarkozy’s Africa Policy Transitional, not Transformational

The visit to Paris this week of Rwandan President Paul Kagame coincided with coverage in the French press of allegations accusing former French President Jacques Chirac of accepting suitcases full of cash as kickbacks from African heads of state. Combined, the two stories highlight the ways in which France under President Nicolas Sarkozy is turning a page in its relations with Africa, but also the ways in which the legacy of the past has proven hard to escape. In this, Sarkozy's presidency, like that of U.S. President Barack Obama in its own way, is likely to be a transitional one, rather than the transformational one that was promised.

But if this is a case of "the more things change, the more they stay the same," it's worth noting the way things have changed. To begin with, the Kagame visit is notable not just for the way in which it cemented the two sides' decision to focus on the future, while letting the unresolved conflicts of the past remain just that -- unresolved, but in the past -- it is also symbolic of Sarkozy's promise of a new beginning in relations between France and Africa. The change was first hinted at in his widely derided speech at Dakar in 2007 and later promised in the 2008 Defense White Paper, which committed the French military to reducing its forward base structure on the continent. Sarkozy went on to announce that France would renegotiate its shadowy security agreements with African countries to bring the accords, which dated back to the post-colonial era, into the 21st century.

The intentions were certainly high-minded. But as the allegations of suitcases full of cash being ferried from African capitals to Elysée as recently as four years ago highlight, there are not just skeletons tucked away in the closet of France-Africa relations, but many living, breathing people still active on the political scene today. That, in turn, is symbolic of the ways in which Sarkozy's Africa policy has, unsurprisingly, not been as radical a shift as announced. The promised base reduction has not yet materialized, although most of the archaic security agreements have been renegotiated, despite African leaders' reluctance to forego security guarantees that essentially amount to job security.* Tellingly, when a rebel column bent on deposing Chadian President Idriss Déby raced across Chad and entered the capital N'Djamena in 2008, although the 1,000-plus French military contingent stationed there did not intervene decisively, French aircraft did provide critical reconnaissance to Déby's troops, with some reports suggesting that French special forces joined the fighting alongside them.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article as well as three free articles per month. You'll also receive our free email newsletter to stay up to date on all our coverage:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having your own personal researcher and analyst for news and events around the globe. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of 15,000+ articles
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday
  • Weekly in-depth reports on important issues and countries
  • Daily links to must-read news, analysis, and opinion from top sources around the globe, curated by our keen-eyed team of editors
  • Your choice of weekly region-specific newsletters, delivered to your inbox.
  • Smartphone- and tablet-friendly website.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review