Chirac in swansong summit with African leaders

13th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 13, 2007 (AFP) , President Jacques Chirac bids farewell to Africa this week at an Africa-France summit seen as one of his last major diplomatic forays before his widely-expected departure from politics.

PARIS, Feb 13, 2007 (AFP)

President Jacques Chirac bids farewell to Africa this week at an Africa-France summit seen as one of his last major diplomatic forays before his widely-expected departure from politics.

Chirac will play host to more than 30 African leaders during the summit opening Wednesday in Cannes, addressing an issue that has been close to his heart during his 12 years in office: the plight of the world's poorest continent.

"I love Africa, I believe in its future," Chirac said ahead of the summit.

"I am convinced that we cannot talk about globalisation in terms of a success if Africa is left to the wayside," he told a gathering of scientists, businessmen and artists from Africa on Monday.

Launched in 1973 as a club of former French colonies, the Africa-France summit this year will focus on the theme "Africa and the world balance" at a time when China is positioning itself as a market for Africa's oil and mineral wealth.

Chirac, who has made an annual trip to Africa a fixture of his 12-year presidency, will hold three days of talks on the French Riviera with the group of leaders, many of whom he counts as personal friends.

Africa's longest serving president Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, Cameroon President Paul Biya and Denis Sassou-Nguessou of Congo Republic are to attend the summit along with Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno whose relations with neighboring Sudan have turned hostile.

A meeting between the leaders of Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic is scheduled on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the worsening situation in Darfur.

Notably absent will be South African President Thabo Mbeki whose relationship with Chirac cooled in 2005 after the French president criticised Pretoria's peace efforts in Ivory Coast as not having "a very great impact."

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, who is on poor terms with Chirac over the west African nation's stalled peace process, will also be absent from the summit. He has boycotted consecutive summits since 2002.

While the 74-year-old French president has sought to renew ties with Africa by promoting a multilateral approach to conflicts, he has nevertheless maintained France's military bases in five African countries: Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal.

The French troops are a holdover from the Cold War when France was known as the "gendarme of Africa" as the only western country to have pre-positioned forces on the continent.

For journalist Antoine Glaser, author of the book "How France Lost Africa", Chirac failed to open up a new era of relations with Africa by largely confining his actions to francophone west Africa.

"France stayed in its preserve, without addressing itself to all of Africa," Glaser said.  "When it tried to break out, it was badly done," he said, noting the criticism of Mbeki over the Ivory Coast peace effort.

Chirac also failed to promote democracy on the continent through a new generation of leaders, continuing to support leaders such as the late Togolese president Gnassingbe Eyadema who was in power for 38 years.

Under Chirac, "we were looking for friends, loyal friends, not partners," Glaser said.

Other than Darfur, summit leaders are also expected to discuss the situation in Guinea, where the opposition is pressing President Lansana Conte, in power for 23 years, to step down.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Africa-France summit, Jacques Chirac

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