Elysée lunch for heads of former French colonies draws criticism
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The invitation of 12 leaders of former French colonies in Africa to a lunch at the Elysée Palace on the eve of the July 14 celebrations has led to accusations that France has failed to move on from its post-colonial relationship with the continent.
The attendance of a dozen leaders of France’s former African colonies* at the Elysée Palace for lunch with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the eve of the 14 July celebrations has disappointed progressives hoping for a change in France’s relationship with Africa.
On July 14 itself, soldiers from these countries will march down the Champs Elysees in Paris for the traditional “Bastille Day” parade.
The involvement of former colonies in France’s national day marks 50 years since they gained independence; Sarkozy insists that their participation has nothing to do with “colonial nostalgia”.
Sarkozy has also announced that all former colonial combatants (about 30,000) who served France in past conflicts will receive pensions in line with their French counterparts, no matter where they live.
However, the invitation is controversial and has been criticised as a return to a post-colonial relationship between France and its old African colonies – “La Françafrique” – that progressives hoped to have seen the back of.
The exclusivity of the “Françafrique” approach, they argue, does little or nothing to encourage the development of democracy in these countries.
French association “Survie” (Survival), which lobbies for the redrawing of the French-African relationship, said it was shocked by the lunch invitation, which spokesman Olivier Thimonier said harked back to the bad old days.
“Nothing has changed,” he said. “France is still just looking after its own interests without trying to encourage real democracy in these countries.”
“Survie” is not the only voice of dissent. François Hollande, former leader of the opposition Socialist Party, said: “We’re back in the politics of networks, of displays of collusion.”
Pointing out that France’s Minister for Cooperation [effectively for Africa] Alain Joyandet was recently sacked and not replaced, he added: “What’s worse is that France’s African policy is now completely in the hands of the Elysée Palace and the president’s immediate entourage.”
* Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritiania, Niger, Senegal, Chad, Togo.