French Colonial Past Casts Long Shadow Over Policy in Africa






PARIS — 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....

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....

Achille Mbembé, a Cameroonian-born historian and critic of French involvement in Ivory Coast, said that France continued to support African dictators, mentioning the leaders of Gabon, Cameroon, Congo, Chad and Togo. He saw “a continuity in the management of Françafrique — this system of reciprocal corruption, which, since the end of colonial occupation, ties France to its African henchmen.”...

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.”...



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