France watches Africa slip from its grasp.
- By Kim Willsher in Paris, Sunday Telegraph
A crisis of confidence caused by corruption scandals, French support
of dictatorial regimes and a lack of political direction is
threatening Paris's special relationship with the continent. It is
also being squeezed out by emerging economic powers, such as China
and India, which are anxious to forge links with oil-rich African
In an attempt to reverse the waning of French post-colonial
influence, Jacques Chirac, the French president, hosted the 24th
Franco-African summit in Cannes last week. More than 30 African heads
of state attended, many to say farewell to Mr Chirac - known as "Papa
Afrique" - who has become a personal friend in his attempt to
continue France's self-appointed dual role as protector and policeman
in the region.
At the end of the two-day summit, at which 48 of Africa's 53 nations
were represented, Omar Bongo, president of Gabon praised the French
president, but criticised Miss Royal and Mr Sarkozy. "As far as I'm
concerned neither of them understand anything about Africa," he said.
There were, however, notable absences. Among them was Paul Kagame,
the Rwandan president, who holds France responsible for the slaughter
of as many as one million of his people in the 1994 massacres. He
claims that Paris supported, funded and trained the "genocidal
regime" that carried out the 100-day slaughter of Rwandan Tutsis and
moderate Hutus. He announced last week that he intended to break away
from the Francophone -grouping and apply to join the Commonwealth.
President Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast also boycotted the event,
as he has since 2002. He is reported to have fallen out with Mr
Chirac after accusing him of allowing French troops stationed in the
former colony - as they are in Chad, Djibouti, Gabon and Senegal - to
take sides in the country's internal feuds.
Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, whose relationship with
France cooled in 2005 after Mr Chirac described his peace efforts in
the Ivory Coast as ineffective, was also absent.
Africa experts say France is suffering from a "lack of direction" on
the continent. "There is a crisis of confidence in France about what
to do about Africa," said Tom Cargill, manager of the Africa Project
at Chatham House in London.
Uncertainty is being fuelled because neither Ségolène Royal nor
Nicolas Sarkozy, frontrunners to succeed Mr Chirac in May's
presidential elections, have the same affection or regard for Africa.
Jean-Paul Gourévitch, the author of France in Africa and an adviser
to the French government on Africa, added: "Jacques Chirac genuinely
believes in Africa and believes in the development of Africa. The new
generation of politicians haven't the same contacts and will approach
Africa with less emotion and more economic considerations."
Mr Sarkozy, 52, is more concerned with controlling immigration from
African countries and has called for a new relationship that
is "cleaner, free of complexes, clear of the dregs of the past and of
obsolescent ideas". Miss Royal, 54, despite being born in Senegal
when it was still a French colony, appears to have little interest in
For many French African immigrants scraping a living in Paris, Mr
Chirac and the continent's leaders might as well be meeting on a
"They call him Chirac the African but it's just a joke," said Messan,
25, an engineer and sans papiers (illegal immigrant) from
Togo. "France, Britain, Europe, America... none of them give a stuff
about Africa except for what they can get. And it's going to get
worse for us. France is going to do deals with African leaders to get
us sent back."
Lamine, 23, a musician from Senegal, added: "Why isn't Chirac talking
to African trade unionists, to human rights activists, to poor
workers, to immigrants to find out what they want?"
The French Riviera, where the conference is being held, is a place
with many reminders of the darker side of Franco-African affairs.
Perched in the hillsides overlooking Cannes are the luxurious villas
and bolt-holes of numerous African despots past and present, most
infamous among them Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (who died in 1997) and
Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier of Haiti.
In the 1960s France promised military and financial aid to
promote "stability" in its newly independent colonies - which often
meant propping up unelected and corrupt dictators. When, despite
Paris's support, they were finally overthrown, France offered them
refuge and hospitality.
Mr Gorévitch said that supporting dictators was the result of
France's rigid rule on Africa: stability at all costs.
"The policy hasn't changed since de Gaulle," he said. "France
supports the country not the head of that country. So it supports a
country even if it's run by a dictator."
Critics, however, say French foreign policy has been driven by self-
interest and, more recently, by a determination to prevent American
or British influence spreading.
Mr Chirac said: "Relations between France and Africa are vital to our
countries," adding that he hoped that "all the [presidential]
candidates would appreciate the fundamental importance of Africa in
He added that France was ready to evacuate 2,000 French residents,
4,000 Lebanese and between 500 and 600 Americans from the
impoverished West African country of Guinea where a state of martial
law has been declared following protests against the president