French President Francois Hollande in Senegal

French President Francois Hollande spoke in Dakar, Senegal today, on his first visit to Africa since taking office. His next stop is the Democratic Republic of Congo for the 14th summit (French) of the International Organization of the Francophonie (ie, the French speaking world).

Press coverage of Hollande’s appearance in Senegal has emphasized two themes: the contrast between his tone and the one his predecessor President Nicolas Sarkozy struck five years ago, and Hollande’s focus on the crisis in northern Mali.

On the first theme:

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, 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 speech delivered at Dakar’s largest public university were so insulted that some walked out.

Sarkozy’s statements were offensive and wrong.

On the second theme:

The Mali crisis will dominate Hollande’s talks today in Dakar with President Macky Sall of Senegal, a neighboring secular* nation with a majority Muslim population, according to French officials…France has been an outspoken supporter of the use of force against Islamist rebels controlling the arid north of its former colony and drafted a United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for a detailed military plan for intervention within 30 days. The Economic Community for West African States has called for UN backing for a regional military contingent. Ivory Coast and Senegal have pledged to contribute troops.

“The objective is to wipe out terrorism,” Hollande said during a joint press conference with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Oct. 9 in Paris.

Seneweb has video footage of Hollande’s arrival at the National Assembly. Senegal, of course, has a new president too, Macky Sall, who was elected earlier this year. Much has changed for France, Senegal, and West Africa since 2007.

*Is it though?

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6 thoughts on “French President Francois Hollande in Senegal

  1. Sarkozy probably didn’t intend to make that message so much as he or whoever wrote the speech probably didn’t bother properly checking it to see how it sounded. A much better one would have been something along the lines of ‘the tragedy is that corruption, violence and interference have restrained Africa’s great potential for decades. But the 21st century will be one that sees the renewed rise of Africa and it will be first seen in nations like Senegal’.

    I’ve long since gotten jaded to the flubs, mistakes, errors of translation and sheer idiocy that go into official statements and speeches.

    Stepping outside Africa for a moment, this is a bit amusing. The French might have elected a Socialist to office but on the foreign policy issues that Americans care about there doesn’t seem to be a great amount of difference. I wonder how long before we barely remember Cold War tensions.

  2. Senegal is pretty secular for a country where 95% of the population practice the same religion. Their founding father, Leopold Senghor, was Christian and remains immensely popular.

    • And yet, just for example, every president, including Senghor, has cultivated – and needed to cultivate – relationships with the country’s marabouts, who wield significant political influence. One sees markers of Muslim and especially Sufi identity in many places, from taxicabs to people’s bodies.

      • Very valid point on the marabouts. Although it seemed like the majority of marabouts (or at least the most outspoken ones) sided with Wade in the past election. And a great deal of the marabouts political influence comes from their domination of the ground nut industry, instead of just as religious figures.

        As for personal tokens of religion… how far can you go in the US without coming across a cross of some kind?

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