/ 26 April 2008

French diplomats lament tarnished image in Africa

France needs to improve its tarnished image across Africa where it was once a powerful colonial power but now competes with countries like China for influence, according to a Foreign Ministry report quoted in Le Monde.

The French daily said the ministry asked ambassadors stationed in Africa for their views on France’s image on the continent and summarised them in a report last autumn.

France’s image ”oscillates between attraction and repulsion in our former colonies, depending on the political support or notably military intervention that has taken place in these countries,” Le Monde quoted the report as saying.

The presence of French military bases in Africa ”fuels the fantasy of a France that only acts in support of unjust governments and murky causes”, the report said.

”We are accused simultaneously of intervening too much and of abandoning Africa. Whatever we do, we’re wrong,” one of the diplomats said.

The French Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment on the article.

According to Le Monde, the report said the French often failed to realise the progress that Africa had made, or their country’s waning influence on a continent that is increasingly courted by emerging countries hungry for its natural resources.

”France is no longer the only reference or even the main reference in Africa. The French have a hard time accepting it,” one diplomat commented.

”We have to stop treating French-speaking countries as ‘our Africans’,” another was quoted as saying.

In addition to being seen as ”lecturing” African states, the report said France’s image suffered from the ”Zoe’s Ark” case in Chad, in which French aid activists were sentenced to prison for trying to fly 103 African children to Europe without permission. – Reuters