French president Hollande begins African tour

Associated Press

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — French President Francois Hollande will attempt to make right France's relationship with Africa on his first visit to the continent on Friday, beginning with a stop in Senegal, the seat of France's former colonial empire.

It is here five years ago that Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, said the African man had "not yet entered history," in a speech that was viewed as deeply insulting to many on the continent.

The 58-year-old Hollande, who defeated Sarkozy in May, vowed on the eve of his departure "to write a new page in France's relations with Africa." However, he also said in the interview broadcast on French television and radio that he "is not coming to make a speech which will erase a precedent."

Analysts say he chose Senegal for his first visit to the continent due to the country's democratic credentials, and also because Senegal is expected to play a central role in the planned military intervention in neighboring Mali to flush out the Islamic extremists controlling north Mali. For the Senegalese though, what is front and center is the memory of Sarkozy's 2007 speech.

Africans were seething for weeks after the speech in which he said: "The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has not fully entered into history ... They have never really launched themselves into the future," Sarkozy said. "The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures."

People attending his remarks, which were delivered at Dakar's largest public university, were so insulted that some walked out in a huff.

"Sarkozy came with contempt and with scorn. Hollande is coming to clean up," says Yero Dia, a political analyst who is a frequent commentator on TV debate shows in Senegal. "But for me it's not about Sarkozy, nor about Hollande. It's about us, Africans. It's like the horse and the rider. Whether it's Mitterand, or Chirac, or Sarkozy or Hollande, what remains constant is the system. ... and nothing will change until Africans stop behaving like the horse and letting France be their rider."

Senegal was once the seat of the French empire in West Africa. The country won its independence from France in 1960, but maintains close ties with France.

Hollande will be in Dakar all day on Friday, where he will meet newly elected President Macky Sall, as well as deliver a speech at the National Assembly. In a departure from his predecessor, he will also visit Goree Island, off the coast of the capital, where slaves were boarded onto ships and sent to America. The visit to the slave museum is a symbolic gesture, underscoring Hollande's understanding of the difficult history that Africans have endured.

He is set to leave Friday night for Congo, where he will attend the Francophonie summit in the capital, Kinshasa.

On newsstands throughout Dakar, Senegal's lively independent press reminded Hollande of his predecessor's gaffe. "Be Frank with Us Hollande!" read the headline in Le Quotidien, a play on words because the term "franc" in French, meaning "frank," sounds like the president's first name, Francois. Walfadjiri, another newspaper, calls for "A new page."

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