Series: US embassy cables: the documentsPrevious | Next | Index
US embassy cables: Nicolas Sarkozy’s personal diplomacy in Africa is hamfisted
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 November 2010 21.30 GMT
Wednesday, 13 August 2008, 17:08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 07 PARIS 001568
EO 12958 DECL: 08/13/2018
TAGS PREL, PINR, ECON, MARR, PHUM, XA”>XA, FR”>FR
SUBJECT: FRANCE’S CHANGING AFRICA POLICY: PART II (FRENCH
IMPLEMENTATION AND AFRICAN REACTIONS)
REF: PARIS 1501
Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Kathleen Allegrone, 1.4 (b/ d).
The French president aims to make more businesslike the once colonial approach to France-Africa relations. But his “bedside manner needs fine-tuning” in his dealings with African leaders. He is described as brusque, rude, occassionally wildly digressing from the official line, or else making no effort to hide the fact that he is simply reading aloud from crib-sheets in meetings. Key passage highlighted in yellow.
Read related article
1. (C) SUMMARY: France’s new Africa policy has received mixed reviews from Africans uncertain as France moves away from the “France-Afrique” model. Some Africans seem to accept the outlines of the new policy, some have expressed misgivings about replacing the familiar with the unknown, and some have pushed back, with the French having to make their own adjustments in both tone and substance. Meanwhile, the French continue to refine their policy and to implement it, with a few notable stumbles along the way, such as the Bockel case involving Gabon. They have tried to give fresh impetus to difficult relations with countries such as Angola, Rwanda, Djibouti, and Madagascar, with mixed results. In broader terms, the French are also working to put in place revamped structures, particularly their military presence in Africa (Part III, septel), to reflect the new policy. END SUMMARY.
2. (C) Reftel describes “France-Afrique,” the model that dominated France’s Africa policy for most of the 20th century. Believing that globalization, the fading of colonial and post-colonial sensibilities, and economic and political realities called for a new model, President Nicolas Sarkozy initiated change soon after taking office in May 2007. He announced a new policy based on transparency, accountability, arms-length dealings, a calculation of interests, and a dialogue among equals. He sought to strip relations of what he viewed as sentimental and historical relics of the colonial era, which had stifled relations and fostered an unhealthy cycle of dependency and paternalism. Both sides would henceforth conduct relations crisply, efficiently, and openly. This cable discusses African reactions to Sarkozy’s policy and French steps to implement it. Part III (septel) focuses on structural changes the French are making as part of the new policy, centered on France’s military presence in Africa.
Pre-Election Image Problems
Immigration and Africa3. (C) Sarkozy’s new Africa policy may have been a disquieting change in course for Africans, yet not a surprise to them. Many Africans were wary of Sarkozy before he took office. As Interior Minister, a job he held twice under President Chirac, Sarkozy was well known for his no-nonsense law-and-order views. At Interior, Sarkozy made remarks that raised flags about his sensitivity toward France’s minorities, particularly those with origins in Africa, either the Maghreb or sub-Saharan Africa. In June 2005, after the killing of a young boy in a troubled Paris suburb with a high number of minorities, Sarkozy said he would clean the area out “with a Karcher,” referring to a German high-pressure, water-hose cleaner. At the time of the November 2005 riots in France, Sarkozy described the rioters as “voyous” (thugs) and “racaille” (scum, rabble), the latter term generating strong critical responses from France’s minorities and from others worried about their Interior Minister’s (and possible next President’s) views on ethnic issues
4. (C) Sarkozy compounded these concerns during a visit to Mali and Benin in May 2006 as Interior Minister. Shortly before the trip, he had proposed changes in France’s immigration laws, which became the focal point of his visits and prompted demonstrations against him in both countries. Malians and Beninois perceived as anti-African his proposals for tightening the system then in place. During the trip, Sarkozy contrasted his vision of relations with Africa with that of Chirac, and defended his immigration bill as a harbinger of a “new relationship” with Africa, “cleaned up, simplified, and balanced away from the slag of the past.” In Benin on May 19, 2006, he stated: “We must get rid of this network from another time, these officious emissaries who have no mandate other than the one they invent for
PARIS 00001568 002 OF 007
themselves. The normal functioning of institutions should prevail over the officious networks that have produced so much that is bad.” Africans criticized the substance of his immigration proposals while the French press noted archly that Sarkozy was obviously campaigning for the Presidency and saying things normally within the French President’s proper domain.
5. (C) Immigration remains an important sub-theme to Sarkozy’s Africa policy, and is one of the hottest of hot-button issues in France. Advocates of stricter controls fear the prospect of floods of Eastern Europeans and migrants from all corners of Africa, the Arab world, and the Mediterranean entering France and then benefiting from its generous social programs and taking jobs, without assimilating and becoming “French.” Sub-Saharan Africans are a visible, and to some French, an unwelcome presence in France’s urban areas, with much social commentary from left and right on their long-term effect and their ability to integrate and assimilate. Some wonder whether a French national sports team can really be “French” with so many players of Arab or African origin (notwithstanding the recent successes of French teams of diverse origins).
6. (C) Upon becoming President, Sarkozy installed close associate Brice Hortefeux as Minister of Immigration, Integration, National Identity, and Co-Development, a ministry that had never previously existed. Combining issues relating to immigration, integration, and, especially, “national identity” into a single executive body raised eyebrows among some observers, who believed that creating such a ministry not only indicated the priority Sarkozy placed on these matters but also carried overtones of the appeal Sarkozy made to right-wing, nationalist voters (i.e., Le Pen’s National Front camp) during the final stages of his campaign duel with Socialist Segolene Royal.
7. (C) Sarkozy and Hortefeux have emphasized the benefits that a reformed immigration policy would provide Africans. The French have concluded agreements with several African countries establishing new procedures. One such agreement is with Gabon, concluded on July 5, 2007, during a visit by Hortefeux. The accord (1) facilitates travel between the two countries by business persons, professionals, family members, and those with medical needs; (2) enlarges employment possibilities for Gabonese in certain professions desiring to establish themselves in France; (3) extends residency permits for French in Gabon to five years; (4) prescribes procedures for treating clandestine entrants; and (5) increases bilateral cooperation in countering fraudulent documents. The agreement, which on its face provides advantages to both sides, nonetheless became part of a France-Gabon spat that included other issues, as described later in this message.
8. (C) Some Africans have disapproved of another part of Sarkozy’s immigration policy — the program to test DNA to verify kinship as a basis for immigration. Legislation for such a program was initiated when Sarkozy was at Interior and has since been enacted after overcoming legal and political obstacles. African reaction has been negative, with one article — from Mali in October 2007 — capturing Africans, dismay: “We have known, since the Second World War, after the success of our ancestors, the Senegalese riflemen, in the liberation of France from the hands of Nazi Germany, that our compatriots along with so many other Africans have no longer been welcome on the banks of the Seine. But to go so far as to examine the blood of people to control the migratory flow represents an unqualified case of cynicism and lowers France to the level of nations where racism gains more and more ground.”
9. (C) The DNA testing program appears to be going forward. In June 2008, Hortefeux announced during a visit to Cape Verde that France would begin its first pilot program there in September. Cape Verde is one of nine countries (with Angola, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Guinea, Madagascar, and Pakistan) where France plans to start
PARIS 00001568 003 OF 007
the program in the September 2008 timeframe. Cape Verde authorities reportedly responded that they “took note of this demarche of consultation” but chose not to comment on this “unilateral French decision.” Hortefeux said that “our new immigration policy is understood and shared by our African friends.”
Dakar, July 2007
10. (C) With his stints at Interior, his provocative remarks, and the outline of this new immigration policy as backdrops, Sarkozy went to Dakar in July 2007. He had just won favorable reviews for organizing an international conference on Darfur in June, one of his first acts as President, which ostensibly demonstrated his interest in Africa. On July 26 at the University of Dakar, he delivered the first of three speeches outlining France’s new Africa policy. He did so carrying a fair amount of baggage, certain to face a skeptical, if not hostile, audience. Consistent with his aggressive image, he gave a hard-hitting speech, which, as noted reftel, was written by Special Advisor Henri Guaino and not cleared through normal MFA and Presidency channels. The Dakar speech is worth examining because it was the public introduction to Africans on their turf of both Sarkozy as President and of the policies he planned to pursue. That the speech was not vetted by GOF staff perhaps lends it an air of authenticity that would have been absent had it been sanitized.
11. (C) In the Dakar speech, Sarkozy said: “I did not come to erase the past, which can’t be erased. I did not come to deny either the faults or the crimes, for there were faults and crime…. I have come to propose, to the youth of Africa, not to have you forget this tearing apart and this suffering, which cannot be forgotten, but to have you overcome and surpass them…. Africa bears its share of responsibility for its own unhappiness. People have been killing each other in Africa at least as much as they have in Europe…. Europeans came to Africa as conquerors. They took the land and your ancestors. They banned the gods, the languages, the beliefs, the customs of your fathers. They told your fathers what they should think, what they should believe, what they should do. They cut your fathers from their past, they stripped them of their souls and roots. They disenchanted Africa.”
12. (C) Sarkozy said that the colonist “took but I want to say with respect that he also gave. He constructed bridges, roads, hospitals, dispensaries, schools. He rendered virgin land fertile, he gave his effort, his work, his knowledge. I want to say here that not all the colonists were thieves, not all the colonists were exploiters…. Colonization is not responsible for all of Africa’s current difficulties. It is not responsible for the bloody wars Africans carry out with each other. It is not responsible for the genocides. It is not responsible for the dictators. It is not responsible for fanaticism. It is not responsible for the corruption, for the lies. It is not responsible for the waste and pollution…. The problem of Africa, and permit me as a friend of Africa to say it, is there. The challenge for Africa is to enter more into history. It is to draw from within itself the energy, the strength, the desire, the willpower to listen to and to espouse its own history. The problem of Africa is to stop always repeating, to stop always trotting out, to free itself from, the myth of the eternal return, to understand that the Golden Age, which Africa never stops longing for, will never come back because it never existed.”
13. (C) Many African critics viewed the speech as condescending and paternalistic, two aspects of France-Afrique Sarkozy said he wanted to banish. Prominent Africans faulted Sarkozy’s ideas, including then-AU Commission Chairperson Konare, who said: “This speech was not the kind of speech we were hoping for…. It reminded us of another age, especially his comment about peasants.” Konare was referring to a passage that critics found
PARIS 00001568 004 OF 007
especially demeaning: “The drama of Africa is that the African man has not entered enough into history. The African peasant, for millennia, lives with the seasons, where the ideal life is to be in harmony with nature, and he knows only the eternal recycling of time marked by the rhythm of repetition without end of the same gestures and the same words. In this imagination, where everything always recycles, there is no place for either human adventure or for the idea of progress.”
4. (C) South Africa President Mbeki, one of the few African leaders to react favorably, reportedly wrote to Sarkozy: “What you have said in Dakar, Mr. President, indicates to me that we are fortunate to count on you as a citizen of Africa, as a partner in the protracted struggle to achieve the renaissance of Africa within the context of a European renaissance and the rest of the world.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Sarkozy chose Cape Town as the site for the third speech in his Africa policy series (to the dismay of francophone Africa), identified South Africa as a strategic partner, and, upon France’s assuming the EU Presidency in July 2008, sponsored, as one of the Presidency’s initial acts, the first EU-South Africa Summit (in Bordeaux on July 25). As Presidential Advisor Romain Serman has observed, one of Sarkozy’s operating principles is “reward the good, punish the bad.”
Reining Him In and Slowing Him Down
15. (C) After Dakar, Sarkozy went to Gabon, where elder statesman and France-Afrique supporter President Bongo received him with full honors. Sarkozy reportedly hesitated before going; visiting a France-Afrique stronghold, site of a French military base, and source of valuable commerce (especially petroleum) could smack of the old-style courting and role playing he claimed he wanted to forego. In the end, he relented: “Omar Bongo is the dean of African heads of state and, in Africa, being the dean, that counts.” Bongo offered full pomp and circumstance, with festive crowds chanting “vive la France, vive Sarkozy, vive l’amitie franco-gabonaise,” and banners proclaiming this friendship prominently displayed. To some observers, the message was clear: “You say that France-Afrique is a thing of the past but, if Africans really are equal partners, we have some say in the matter as well, and we say that France-Afrique is not in all respects so bad.” Sarkozy reportedly did not expect that kind of visit or that Bongo would offer a different reality.
16. (C) Sarkozy has in other ways shown himself to be out of step, with his bedside manner needing fine-tuning. Presidential Advisor Remi Marechaux says that when Sarkozy is confident on substance or at ease with an interlocutor, he speaks freely without relying on briefing material. This occasionally causes problems when he strays from “official” policy, with others then steering the discussion back on course. When he is less familiar with an issue or with an interlocutor, he will read talking points verbatim, with little attempt to disguise what he is doing, sometimes thumbing through briefing books looking for information while his interlocutor is speaking.
17. (C) Sarkozy does not like to waste time and likes to get to the point, perhaps to excess. When President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea met with Sarkozy in November 2007, support staff on both sides were tardy in settling into place. Sarkozy did not wait and launched into his talking points as the staff filed into the meeting. Sarkozy engaged in no small talk and the meeting was over in minutes, to the bewilderment of his visitors. Our contacts at the Presidency indicate Sarkozy has since made an effort to be more “diplomatic,” but one wonders whether he would ever dare to treat a Western head of state in such a cursory manner, under any circumstances.
18. (C) Flush with his early success at helping liberate Bulgarian medical workers long detained in Libya on dubious
PARIS 00001568 005 OF 007
charges, Sarkozy decided to intervene personally in Chad after the Zoe’s Ark effort to smuggle supposed Darfur orphans to France was discovered and the perpetrators detained. Sarkozy went to Chad early in November 2007 and negotiated the release of some of the detainees. After returning to Paris, he thought of going there again to free those still in custody but decided against it. He was advised not to make a second trip as France could not afford having him set a precedent by personally rushing off and responding to and managing a relatively low-level crisis. Chad President Deby no doubt appreciated the visit Sarkozy did make, which probably increased Chad’s leverage, as Sarkozy had put his own prestige in play.
Bongo Up, Bockel Down, France-Afrique Still Kicking
19. (C) Jean-Marie Bockel became State Secretary for Cooperation and Francophonie (reporting to the Foreign Minister) when Sarkozy took office. Bockel, a Socialist, is a veteran politician and Mulhouse’s mayor since 1989, and was Commerce Minister 1984-1986. On January 15, 2008, he gave an interview to Paris daily Le Monde, stating boldly (and perhaps rashly) that “I want to sign the death certificate of France-Afrique.” Asked why it seemed that not much had changed despite Sarkozy’s promise of a new Africa policy, Bockel said: “France-Afrique is moribund…. It’s not a question of morale, but helping with development. For, because of the faulty governance in certain countries, our policy of cooperation, despite its many forms, doesn’t allow for progress commensurate with our effort.”
20. (C) Continuing, Bockel said that ineffectiveness prevailed because “bad governance, the wastage of public finds, the carelessness of certain administrative and political structures, the predation of certain leaders — everybody knows these factors or supposes them. In total, of USD 100 billion annually in aid for Africa, USD 30 billion evaporates. Certain countries have important petroleum resources, but their populations don’t benefit. Is it legitimate that our aid is distributed to countries that waste their own resources? We must re-examine conditionalities, to evaluate the effectiveness of our aid.”
21. (C) Bockel’s comments did not sit well with some Africans, notably Gabon President Bongo. A slow-moving French judicial investigation of the holdings in France of certain African leaders, among them Bongo, was in progress even before Sarkozy went there in July 2007. The investigation reportedly indicated that Bongo owned or was involved in the ownership of 33 properties in France, including a Paris mansion valued at 18 million euro (currently, about USD 27.15 million). The French press picked up this case and did some investigating and reporting of its own. The Gabonese took umbrage, with their MFA stating its intention to “reflect” on the course of Franco-Gabonese relations and mentioning a “cabal” and a “plot against Gabon and its president.”
22. (C) Relations took a turn for the worse when, early in March 2008, France expelled two Gabonese for apparent visa/residency problems. Gabon immediately responded, noting that “there are many French in Gabon in irregular situations. They can be taken to the border if, during police controls, they don’t justify their presence with proper documentation.” Gabon then raised the reciprocity provisions of the immigration accord signed the previous July (para 7, above). The noise level, mostly on Gabon’s side, increased.
23. (C) And then the noise suddenly stopped, after the March 18 announcement that Bockel would no longer be Secretary of State for Cooperation and Francophonie, to be replaced by Alain Joyandet. Although officially denied, it was commonly accepted that Bockel had to go in order to make peace with figures such as Bongo. Media reports on the French holdings of African leaders also seemed to disappear at that time and so did the investigations. For his part,
PARIS 00001568 006 OF 007
Bockel issued a “no regrets about anything I said” statement, as he trundled off to his new job as Secretary of State for Veterans Affairs.
24. (C) The Bockel case is significant because it shows that “killing” France-Afrique is easier said than done; that France-Afrique has a life of its own, with vested interests on the African side that the French perhaps underestimated when deciding on the new policy; that African leaders can manipulate France-Afrique for their own ends as well as the French can or could; that a clever, skillful leader like Bongo can fight far above Gabon’s weight and humble a French politician of Bockel’s stature; and that France should take care in not trifling with Africans (which is what Sarkozy said in Dakar that France would no longer do). Bold talk of “signing France-Afrique’s death certificate” ended with Bockel’s departure and has not resurfaced. Bongo made his point.
Wins, Losses, Draws, and ???
25. (C) Sarkozy indicated that implementation of his new policy would take place on a clean slate, that he would not be a prisoner of the past or the problems that existed prior to his presidency. Bongo partly refuted that notion. The Sarkozy government has tried to improve problematic relations from earlier times, with only limited success.
— ANGOLA: Relations were long frozen because of the Falcone Affair, the complex arms trafficking case that dates to the Mitterrand and Chirac eras. French commercial activities in Angola after the scandal broke have continued without much hindrance but political relations have been very limited. Frustrated that the Falcone issue continued to influence relations and with an eye toward expanding business with resource-rich Angola, Sarkozy broke the ice with a short meeting with President Dos Santos during the September 2007 UNGA, and followed up with a visit to Angola on May 23, 2008. One shared issue of concern is the trial in France of some 42 defendants (including high-profile figures such as Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, President Mitterrand’s son and a former “Mr. Africa” at the Presidency) and what that trial may reveal in terms of Angolan culpability in the affair. Angolans now appear ready to handle whatever dirty laundry the trial brings to light. Although still at an early stage, Sarkozy’s outreach to Angola seems promising, and should be considered a “win” for both sides.
— RWANDA: Relations, precarious even before the 1994 genocide, collapsed in November 2006 when then-anti terrorism Judge Bruguiere issued an investigative report that implicated President Kagame and other senior Rwandans in the events of 1994. The Rwandans immediately broke relations with France. The French have since tried to improve relations, arguing that neither side should hold the other hostage over events dating to 1994 and before. They stress that France’s judiciary (i.e., a judge such as Bruguiere) enjoys an independence that renders it immune from internal GOF attempts to influence it. Seeking reconciliation, Foreign Minister Kouchner met with President Kagame on January 26, 2008, in Kigali. Despite French optimism that the two sides can “compartmentalize” the genocide issue, Rwanda is not amenable to doing so, landing another hammer blow with the August 2008 report accusing French officials at the highest levels of complicity in the genocide. With relations getting worse and not better, Rwanda must be considered a “loss.”
— DJIBOUTI: The Borrel Affair, involving the 1995 death of French judge Bernard Borrel, who was working on assignment in Djibouti when he committed suicide (or was killed), continues to cloud relations. Both sides long considered his death a suicide but Mrs. Borrel was convinced he was murdered for having found evidence of Djiboutian wrongdoing. She filed several legal proceedings in France; one resulted in the March 2007 conviction in absentia of two senior Djiboutian figures for witness tampering.
PARIS 00001568 007 OF 007
— DJIBOUTI (cont,d): Despite periodic upheavals, the two sides managed to isolate the case until the convictions, which took place a few weeks before Sarkozy’s inauguration. Soon after becoming President, Sarkozy met with Mrs. Borrel and the GOF abruptly shifted position, saying that Borrel’s death was not a suicide but the result of foul play. It is not clear if the shift stemmed from a new evaluation of the evidence or from Sarkozy’s desire to ally himself with Mrs. Borrel, whom the French public and media have viewed sympathetically. Djiboutians protested, countering that Borrel, if not a suicide, died because of involvement in a pedophile ring. Relations seemed destined to deteriorate but then France provided important help to Djibouti during its June 2008 border dispute with Eritrea. France’s military base in Djibouti so far has not been a bargaining chip in the Borrel case. Relations with Djibouti, while delicate, seem to be holding in place, with both sides enjoying a “draw.” That said, the Borrel issue remains unresolved and its unfolding will likely continue to affect relations.
— MADAGASCAR: To these wins, losses, and draws, one must add an abject “surrender” — Sarkozy’s agreeing to Madagascar President Ravalomanana’s recent request that then-Ambassador to Madagascar Gildas Le Lidec be replaced after some six months at post. Ravalomanana reportedly thought that Le Lidec was “unlucky,” citing negative developments in other countries that coincided with Le Lidec’s postings. One of France’s most experienced diplomats, Le Lidec had been ambassador in Japan, Cambodia, C.A.R., DRC, and Cote d,Ivoire before Madagascar, where he announced his departure at this year’s July 14 fete. When asked, most GOF contacts shake their heads and sigh, making muted comments about Sarkozy’s bending backward too far to placate Ravalomanana and ending a veteran public servant’s honorable career by humiliating him. Whether Le Lidec’s dismissal represents a one-off or signals a new-found intention on Sarkozy’s part to please African leaders remains to be seen.
One Year Later
26. (C) Over a year into Sarkozy’s five-year term, his Africa policy has yielded positive results for both French and Africans but has not been the clean-sweeping “out with the old, in with the new” success he was first seeking. In our view, he underestimated the scope of the challenge and overestimated his abilities as a relative outsider bringing his fabled dynamism to the task. He was tone-deaf to some of the dynamics developed over decades of France-Afrique and his pace and rhythm (let alone his policies) did not accord with that of many African counterparts. In saying openly that he wanted to end France-Afrique, Sarkozy inadvertently gave it a new spark of life, as Bockel learned the hard way.
27. (C) Nonetheless, the energy that Sarkozy is imparting stands in favorable contrast to the stagnation characterizing Africa policy during Chirac’s final years. Sarkozy’s main shortcoming concerning Africa may be that in his haste to end an admittedly shopworn policy, he launched himself into doing so without having completely integrated the lessons that were to be learned from it.
28. (C) Part III, the final segment of this series (septel), will explore other aspects of France’s implementation of its new Africa policy, focusing on its military posture in that region.
Please visit Paris’ Classified Website at: http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Fran ce