ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15

Africans still seething over Sarkozy speech

By Diadie Ba

DAKAR, Sept 5 (Reuters) - A month after French President Nicolas Sarkozy laid out his vision for African relations, intellectuals across the continent are still seething over a speech they say may have poisoned a chance for better ties. During his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since winning power, Sarkozy outraged public opinion in Senegal with a speech in late July laced with allusions to colonialism and the suggestion Africa had failed to embrace progress.

"Maybe he does not realise to what extent we felt insulted," said Boubacar Boris Diop, one of Senegal's most prominent contemporary writers. "Strictly from a political point of view, his speech was a mistake. He will realise that Africans and the negroes from the diaspora will never forgive him."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) and former South African president Nelson Mandela attend a meeting, 04 September 2007 at the Elysee palace in Paris. AFP

For many, the speech represented a squandered opportunity. When he won power in May elections, African leaders in the French-speaking Maghreb and West Africa rushed to congratulate Sarkozy, who pledged to modernise the European power's often opaque relations with its former colonies.

"The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history ... They have never really launched themselves into the future," Sarkozy said in the address at Dakar's main university, leaving many students opened-mouthed. "The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words," he said. "In this realm of fancy ... there is neither room for human endeavour nor the idea of progress."

Senegalese newspaper Sud Quotidien branded the speech the next day as "an insult", echoing the outraged reaction of many students as they left the auditorium. Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the 53-nation African Union Commission, swiftly labelled Sarkozy's speech as "declarations of a bygone era".

The speech has since drawn criticism from politicians and intellectuals across Africa who denounced it as unacceptable and based on long-discredited stereotypes. For many, it was a throwback to France's murky colonial past.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.