Monday, March 03, 2008

Françafrique

Nicolas Sarkozy hesitated, but finally decided to visit Chad on his way to South Africa (the main purpose of which visit seems to have been to sell some more nuclear power stations), after obtaining from President Idriss Déby a promise to allow an international commission into the whereabouts of 2 opposition figures who disappeared after the failed rebel attack on the capital.  A third person who disappeared has recently been "rediscovered".

Various rumours circulate about the two: they may have been detained by the Chadian security service, but many Chadians believe they have been killed.

Sarkozy did not spend long enough in N'Djamena to meet anyone from the opposition, but his new wife, Carla Bruni-S. spent three-quarters of an hour in the French embassy with the wife of Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, one of the missing men. Bernard Kouchner was also supposed to meet members of the opposition the following day. The opposition refused to take part in a meeting that President Déby had reluctantly offered as long as they did not know the truth about the disappearance of their leaders.

As Le Monde's report put it, President Sarkozy did not have time to take note of the fear that still reigns in N'Djamena.

Meanwhile, in the Cameroons, riots have spread from the port of Douala to the capital, Yaoundé, leaving at least 17 dead over the last week. Resentment has crystallized around the apparent decision of President Paul Biya, who has already been in charge for 25 years, to seek a further term in 2011. The US ambassador made known her opposition to this move, but France has been severely criticised for its silence on the matter. Living standards are falling, corruption is particularly bad - the Cameroons are very low in the rankings published by Transparency International. One demonstrator claimed, "We have a privileged caste which lives to the detriment of the majority who are suffering." 

The French government is reviewing its military bases. The facility in Chad is a 'provisional' one that has been there since 1986. Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, could be scaled back, as a middle east base in Abu Dhabi is set up. In the west, the status of Abidjan (Ivory Coast) has changed so that it is no longer a permanent base, while it is likely that Dakar (Senegal) will remain as the main naval point of entry and Gabon as a key aerial base.

Just to finish off, while wandering some distance from the original point, the US (and/or Britain?) seem to have removed their objections to a strong and independent European defence structure. As a French military chief put it, Washington realised that these merely "had the result of encouraging most European countries not to spend any money on their defence, relying rather on Nato, that is, the US."

Le Figaro, 28 Feb 2008; Le Monde, 28-29 Feb 2008.

Update 3 Mar: the news is that 1 of the 2 men missing in Chad, Ngarlejy Yorongar, has reappeared in Yaoundé, having escaped from his jailers and made his way to the north of the Cameroons (AFP).

Kouchner claims that people in Chad and refugees from Darfur 'are welcoming' the deployment of the Eufo . He says that France 'fulfilled its obligations' in terms of logistics and providing intelligence, but did not defend the Déby regime (interview on France Inter).

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