|France watches Africa slip from its grasp
By Kim Willsher in Paris, Sunday Telegraph
Former French allies aspire to British way
France is losing its influence in Africa after nearly half a century of battling to keep a hold over its former colonial empire.
Jacques Chirac with Burkina Faso’s president Blaise Campaore, Gabon’s Omar Bongo, Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Congo’s Denis Sassou-N’Guesso
A crisis of confidence caused by corruption scandals, French support of dictatorial regimes and a lack of political direction is threatening Paris's special relationship with the continent. It is also being squeezed out by emerging economic powers, such as China and India, which are anxious to forge links with oil-rich African nations.
In an attempt to reverse the waning of French post-colonial influence, Jacques Chirac, the French president, hosted the 24th Franco-African summit in Cannes last week. More than 30 African heads of state attended, many to say farewell to Mr Chirac - known as "Papa Afrique" - who has become a personal friend in his attempt to continue France's self-appointed dual role as protector and policeman in the region.
There were, however, notable absences. Among them was Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, who holds France responsible for the slaughter of as many as one million of his people in the 1994 massacres. He claims that Paris supported, funded and trained the "genocidal regime" that carried out the 100-day slaughter of Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus. He announced last week that he intended to break away from the Francophone -grouping and apply to join the Commonwealth.
President Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast also boycotted the event, as he has since 2002. He is reported to have fallen out with Mr Chirac after accusing him of allowing French troops stationed in the former colony - as they are in Chad, Djibouti, Gabon and Senegal - to take sides in the country's internal feuds.
advertisementThabo Mbeki, the South African president, whose relationship with France cooled in 2005 after Mr Chirac described his peace efforts in the Ivory Coast as ineffective, was also absent.
Africa experts say France is suffering from a "lack of direction" on the continent. "There is a crisis of confidence in France about what to do about Africa," said Tom Cargill, manager of the Africa Project at Chatham House in London.
Uncertainty is being fuelled because neither Ségolène Royal nor Nicolas Sarkozy, frontrunners to succeed Mr Chirac in May's presidential elections, have the same affection or regard for Africa.
Flag of the Commonwealth: France watches as several of its African colonies aspire to join the Commonwealth rather than continuing to have links with France
Jean-Paul Gourévitch, the author of France in Africa and an adviser to the French government on Africa, added: "Jacques Chirac genuinely believes in Africa and believes in the development of Africa.
The new generation of politicians haven't the same contacts and will approach Africa with less emotion and more economic considerations."
Mr Sarkozy, 52, is more concerned with controlling immigration from African countries and has called for a new relationship that is "cleaner, free of complexes, clear of the dregs of the past and of obsolescent ideas". Miss Royal, 54, despite being born in Senegal when it was still a French colony, appears to have little interest in Africa.
For many French African immigrants scraping a living in Paris, Mr Chirac and the continent's leaders might as well be meeting on a different planet.
"They call him Chirac the African but it's just a joke," said Messan, 25, an engineer and sans papiers (illegal immigrant) from Togo. "France, Britain, Europe, America... none of them give a stuff about Africa except for what they can get. And it's going to get worse for us. France is going to do deals with African leaders to get us sent back."
Lamine, 23, a musician from Senegal, added: "Why isn't Chirac talking to African trade unionists, to human rights activists, to poor workers, to immigrants to find out what they want?"
The French Riviera, where the conference is being held, is a place with many reminders of the darker side of Franco-African affairs.
Perched in the hillsides overlooking Cannes are the luxurious villas and bolt-holes of numerous African despots past and present, most infamous among them Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (who died in 1997) and Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier of Haiti.
In the 1960s France promised military and financial aid to promote "stability" in its newly independent colonies - which often meant propping up unelected and corrupt dictators. When, despite Paris's support, they were finally overthrown, France offered them refuge and hospitality.
Mr Gorévitch said that supporting dictators was the result of France's rigid rule on Africa: stability at all costs.
"The policy hasn't changed since de Gaulle," he sai