Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sarkozy’s line for Africa is “neither interference nor indifference”

President Nicolas Sarkozy, having suddenly engaged France in shooting wars in Libya and Ivory Coast, seems to be harking back to the old days of French African policy, sometimes known as Françafrique, when Paris and its army dictated politics in its former colonies and reaped economic rewards.
Thus writes Steven Erlanger in his New York Times article, French Colonial Past Casts Long Shadow Over Policy in Africa.
But Mr. Sarkozy and the Foreign Ministry reject the suggestion of a return to colonial reflexes, emphasizing that in both cases France acted under a mandate from the United Nations Security Council that authorized the use of force to protect civilians. …

Mr. Sarkozy’s line for Africa has been “neither interference nor indifference.”

France’s colonial empire covered much of North and West Africa, from Algeria to Ivory Coast. The colonies were gradually granted independence in the 1960s, but France still has troops based in Africa and close business, political, linguistic and personal ties to its former colonies, which as a whole give France more importance in the world. …

Accusations persist of France taking sides to make new presidents or overthrow old ones, of illegal political contributions and payoffs, of parallel but separate policies run by the Élysée and the Quai d’Orsay. The newspapers, for instance, have depicted the friendship of Mr. Sarkozy’s former wife, Cécilia, with the French wife of Gbagbo rival Alassane Ouattara, and Mr. Gbagbo played heavily on anti-French sentiment in his effort to retain power.

… But other historians and analysts suggest that Mr. Sarkozy was sincere when he said that his African policy would emphasize partnership and not paternalism, and note that he does not share the same ties to Africa as his predecessors, in particular Mr. Chirac and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, infamous for a scandal over African diamonds allegedly received as a gift.

“Sarkozy has no nostalgia for the former colonies, and I believe there has not been any real change in his African policy,” said Antoine Glaser, former editor in chief of Lettre du Continent, an African newsletter, and co-author of “Sarko in Africa” and “How France Lost Africa.” He added: “The policy is still marked by realpolitik and pragmatism. For Sarkozy, it’s much more the political, diplomatic and geostrategic opportunities of the moment.”