Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Al Qaeda and France raise the stakes in the Sahara

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sarkoAl Qaeda’s North African wing has been creeping up the radar with an increase in attacks in the Sahara. But some have still sought to play down any strategic threat, citing the lack of key interests in the desert.

Westerners were at risk – a couple have also died in the hands of the Islamists – but incidents had mostly ended with in some sort of agreement involving a mix of prisoner swaps and, say experts, cash being passed to the right people.

There has also been intense debate over how loyal to al Qaeda-central the fighters are, as opposed to a bunch of bandits taking advantage of little government control.

Then five French nationals and two other foreigners – all of whom worked in Niger’s uranium mines where French nuclear giant Areva has vast investments – were plucked from their houses as they slept.

France and Africa. New relationship?

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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.

He has made the same point during his past visits to the continent.

“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.

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