05/15/2007versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

The election of the new French president inspires hopes and fears on the continent
Nicholas or Ségolène? Beyond the French, in the last weeks the question impassioned the entire African continent. The balloting for the presidency was experienced as a final in the soccer World Cup—so many were the implications that the victory of one or the other candidate might mean for Africa. Sarkozy won: between the two contenders surely the less loved by the population of the continent. For better or worse, his triumph could mean a turn in the politics of the presidency toward its old colonies.

Nicholas SarkozyFears. Sarkozy’s victory was received with suspicion in all the countries of the continent: the new law on immigration, launched last year precisely on the initiative of the then minister of the Interior, is still present in the minds of Africans. Programs of selective immigration, that according to critics aim to drain the best brains of the continent for the benefit of France, while reducing the spaces for non-qualified workers, have inspired many polemics. If one remembers well, it was the same Sarkozy who last year was the object of fierce anti-French demonstrations on the occasion of state visits to Benin and Mali. The same Malian president, Amadou Toumani Touré, openly criticized the provision that, among other things, eliminated the possibility of asking for French citizenship after ten years of residence in the country and rendered family reunification more difficult, in addition to asking non-European immigrants to sign a “contract” in which they obligate themselves to respect the laws and principles that stand at the base of the French Republic.

Transparency. But if people don’t look upon the new man in the presidency favorably, the music played by African leaders is entirely otherwise. All, or almost all, congratulated Sarkozy at the end of the elections, given the importance that relations with Paris still hold. It’s enough to think that France is among the three countries (along with the United States and China) that entertain the largest business relations with the continent. Sarkozy is well aware of it, so much that he dedicated to Africa, and in particular to the creation of a Mediterranean union complementary to that of Europe, an important place in his inaugural address. But what makes more hope for future relations is how much the new president has promised in terms of transparency in bilateral rapport, a transparency that, from decolonization on, France has disregarded in favor of more immediate objectives of realpolitik.

Manifestazione anti-Sarkozy in BeninBenefits. Sarkozy has promised to end the “personal relationships” that his predecessors have entertained with some of the leaders of the continent—relationships constructed on the base of immediate French interests, and that have carried Paris to ally itself with some of the most controversial personalities who have governed Africa: Idriss Deby, the ex-president of Chad under indictment for crimes against humanity, supported in the 1980s by the United States and France as an anti-Libya measure, is perhaps the most striking example. The redefinition of rapport proposed by Sarkozy also includes the treaties of military alliance that Paris has signed with its ex-colonies, and that have carried France to intervene recently in the crisis in Chad and the Republic of Central Africa, as well as in the civil war in the Ivory Coast. Paris has three great military bases on the continent (in Senegal, Gabon and Djibouti), where 6,000 men are stationed—too many for a country that for has long ago said goodbye to the status of a great power: in order to conserve its own influence in Africa, Sarkozy will focus more on economic relations than on military contingencies, which will be markedly reduced.

From this point of view, Sarkozy might be the right man to break away from the remains of the past: who knows if relations between Paris and Africa, for too long crystallized in the respective roles of mother country and colonies, may not lead to a mutual benefit.
Matteo Fagotto