Why few Africans are unhappy to see the back of President SarkozyBy PATRICK MBATARU | Wednesday, May 9 2012 at 10:20
Right from the beginning of his term, Mr Nicolas Sarkozy rubbed the collective French and African psyches the wrong way.
He celebrated his victory in 2007 by dining in a ritzy café in Paris, handing his home critics the first ammunition against his presidency.
The following day, he reaffirmed what he wanted his image to be by holidaying with that most apt image of capitalism, Vincent Bolloré in the billionaire’s 60-metre luxury yacht off Malta.
The French media had a field day, accusing the right-wing president-elect of unhealthy links with big business.
And the image of the “president of the rich” has dogged Mr Sarkozy throughout his tenure. So is his style of leadership.
Mr Bling Bling, as the tabloid, Le Canard Enchainé baptised him, had won admiration from many French right-wingers as the minister for Internal Security for the steadfast way he managed the 2005 riots by youth in poor neighbourhoods whom he referred to as recaille, meaning scum.
Elected on an anti-Europe, anti-immigration platform, globally, he was initially welcomed as a departure from the past as far as French geopolitical stand was concerned.
He styled himself as pro-American, telling his compatriots that France needed to work with ‘‘like minds’’.
Human rights activists and pro-democrats in Africa welcomed him. He made the right noises. He had warned that the French policy on Africa would no longer be the same, which was interpreted as a warning to African dictators and kleptomaniacs.
It was to be good news. France had after all, always been seen as an unabashed supporter of bad governance in Africa so far as its interests were guaranteed.
Sure, Sarkozy did support change in Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, and most importantly, Senegal.
But again it was because French interests in these countries would not be threatened by any new order.
However, it is his lecture in 2007 at Sheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar that summed up his attitude towards Africa and Africans.
In a most condescending manner, he told his stunned audience that Africa remained underdeveloped because ‘‘its people are immersed in outdated practices such as witchcraft’’.
He lectured on how and why Africa ‘‘was never in history and needed to invent itself a destiny’’. But he offered few answers.
And there was no need to. Within 10 minutes of his homily, only a third of the listeners had remained in the auditorium.
The reaction was fast and furious: Boris Diop, the Senegalese novelist, hit back: “A foreign president, looking down on us, judging inhabitants of an entire continent, demanding that they finally get away from nature, enter human history and invent themselves a destiny.”
Prof Achille Mbembe, the acclaimed Cameroonian historian, answered: “For now, France is simply missing the moral credit which would allow it to speak about Africa with certitude and authority.”
Mr Sarkozy’s comments seemed even more archaic, not least because they came at a time when it was obvious, that Western powers were losing their traditional clout in Africa.
African scholars generally told Sarkozy that African problems could only be solved by Africans and not France. Young people are recognising this.
After half a century of formal decolonisation, young generations have learned that from France, like from other world powers, one should not expect much.
These assertions are not in vain. Reports from world economic analysis point that Africa has the fastest-growing middle class, a class whose members use more than $300 daily per head.
This is the engine of development. More Africans are investing than ever before. Governments are investing much more on infrastructure, education and health.
While many countries are posting declining economic growth rates, many African countries are experiencing rising growth rates. Africa will save itself.
Au revoir, Monsieur Sarkozy.
Dr Mbataru teaches at Kenyatta University’s Department of Agribusiness Management and Trade, and is the author of ‘‘The coffee crisis: New interests, old interests and the illusion of Development.”
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