African business, politics and lifestyle
France and Africa. New relationship?
Before Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president in 2007, he made clear he wanted to break with France’s old way of doing business in Africa – a cosy blend of post-colonial corruption and patronage known as “Françafrique” that suited a fair few African dictators and the French establishment alike.
“The old pattern of relations between France and Africa is no longer understood by new generations of Africans, or for that matter by public opinion in France. We need to change the pattern of relations between France and Africa if we want to look at the future together,” Sarkozy said in South Africa early last year.
This week he is back in Africa for a visit on which France’s business interests play a very prominent role.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sarkozy called on the country to work with former foes Rwanda and Uganda in a partnership based on exploiting the region’s natural riches.
Another stop was in neighbouring Congo Republic to see President Denis Sassou Nguesso, an old friend of France who seized power in the oil-producing state in 1979, lost it in a 1992 election and then returned five years later via a civil war. In the past, Congo Republic symbolised as much as anywhere the old style of diplomacy.
After the Congos, the schedule takes Sarkozy to Niger, a particularly important country for nuclear power dependent France because of the uranium mining interests of French state-controlled nuclear energy group Areva. It is building a huge new mine in Niger, where the government is fighting Tuareg rebels who demand more of the region’s wealth.
Sarkozy is doing nothing different from other world leaders by bringing along a bevy of executives keen to sign deals. France also faces a great deal of competition from China and others in what it used to treat as its “backyard” and is keen to ensure it does not lose out.
In Brazzaville, Sarkozy repeated the pledge he made a year ago to renegotiate all France’s accords with African countries and to make sure they are published in full. But the pace of progress so far has raised questions over how determined France is to break with the past. What do you think the prospects for change are? Is it important?
France‘s President Nicolas Sarkozy with Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso in Brazzaville March 26, 2009. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer