Saturday, April 22, 2006

France's Ties With African Leaders Fading - Yahoo! News

France's Ties With African Leaders Fading - Yahoo! News: "PARIS - When hundreds of rebels in pickup trucks attacked his capital, Chad's President Idriss Deby did what comes naturally: He telephoned French
President Jacques Chirac.

Now, with Chirac nearing the end of his tenure, France's tradition of close personal ties with leaders of its former African colonies appears on the way out — and other world powers could fill the void.

Like predecessors stretching back to Charles de Gaulle, Chirac has long had an African connection and has built many African contacts over his four decades in politics. As president since 1995, he has continued the practice of holding summits with African leaders every two years.

For France, the payoff has been both economic and diplomatic. From regimes France backs militarily, Paris receives support at the
United Nations. African leaders in turn enjoy French military, economic and technical assistance.

But Chirac's sagging political fortunes, his health problems and advancing age — he turns 74 this year — make it highly unlikely that he will stand for another presidential term in 2007. With him gone, to whom will Deby and other African leaders turn?

'The departure of Chirac from the political scene will change the nature of relations between France and Africa,' said Africa expert Albert Boungi, an international law professor at Reims University, east of Paris....

The United States, and possibly China, could step in, mainly to tap oil. Chad exports 160,000 barrels a day through a U.S.-Malaysia consortium including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Petronas....

Relations between Britain — Africa's other major former colonial power — and its one-time colonies also often are close, but they did not develop along the same lines, for cultural and political reasons. Africans under French rule could aspire to French citizenship and former French colonies pegged their currencies to the franc and now the euro, while Britain kept its African subjects at a distance.

France says stability is priority No. 1 in its former African colonies. Its frequent calls for greater democracy in Africa often ring hollow, given France's track record of dealing with despots and leaders-for-life in many countries over the years, seemingly more comfortable with familiar dictators than the unknowns democracy might bring.

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