/ 8 May 2012

Can France’s Hollande smooth Africa’s ruffled feathers?

President-elect Francois Hollande waves as he arrives at the Socialist Party headquarters in Paris on May 7 2012.
President-elect Francois Hollande waves as he arrives at the Socialist Party headquarters in Paris on May 7 2012.

But it is unrealistic to expect a dramatic shift in conduct, some analysts argued, because the legacy of secret deals and influence peddling synonymous with “Francafrique”, or French-speaking Africa, is historic and entrenched.

“One cannot think that Hollande’s arrival will mark the end of ‘Francafrique’ for the simple reason that it was not born with [François] Mitterand, nor [Jacques] Chirac, nor Sarkozy,” said Lecas Atondi Momondjo, a political analyst based in Congo-Brazzaville.

Observers and political officials noted that despite Africa’s rising economic might, Sarkozy’s government at times betrayed a neo-colonialist attitude.

The Hollande presidency, to begin after the Socialist leader’s swearing-in on May 15, will mark the beginning of “a new era”, said Herve Emmanuel Nkom of Cameroon’s ruling RDPC party.

French-speaking Africa is anxious for the end of a Sarkozy era plagued by “arrogance, caricature and even contempt that was voiced in the speech in Dakar”, Nkom said.

During a 2007 speech in Senegal’s capital, Sarkozy’s first in sub-Saharan Africa as president, the right-wing leader said “the African man never really entered into history,” a remark that was widely decried.

Modernising relations

After promising to modernise relations with the continent, analysts said Sarkozy’s diplomacy was hampered by the Dakar address, considered moralising and, to some, offensive.

Hollande may avoid a similar diplomatic misstep, but changing geopolitical and economic realities will increasingly compel Paris to treat African states as partners, not students, said the government paper in Senegal, a former French colony.

“With globalisation, the rise of India and China and the American position on the continent, France is no longer the only tutor,” Le Soleil said.

France’s reputation in Africa is most stained in its former colonies, including Algeria, where papers welcomed Hollande’s win on Monday, two months ahead of the 50th anniversary of an independence gained after a long and bloody conflict.

“Will Hollande succeed in containing the far-right and rekindle dispassionate relations with France?” El Watan daily asked.

Among the Socialist leader’s first symbolic decisions will be whether to attend an October Francophone summit in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where fresh violence broke out again last week in the chronically unstable east.

In Nigeria, an English-speaking former British colony and Africa’s most populous country, President Goodluck Jonathan said Sunday’s vote, where Hollande took 51.62%, was “a clear testimony to the maturity and age-long tradition of democracy in France”.

In a statement, Jonathan’s office urged France to “remain a strong supporter of global action to promote democracy, good governance and rapid socioeconomic development in Africa”. — Sapa-AFP