France Finds Policy Vindicated in Central Africa: Calls U.S. Goals Naive as 2 Nations Vie for Hegemony
Barber, Ben, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The French are smirking at the failure of U.S. attempts to replace them - and replace French with English - as the dominant force in Central Africa now that Rwanda and Uganda have thrown the Congo into chaos.
"The French were right: The new Africa did not last long," Charles Lambroschini wrote recently in a front page column in the conservative Paris daily Le Figaro.
"Now that the great strategic vision of the United States is bogged down in the swamps and jungles of the black continent, Paris can propose a return to pragmatism," he wrote.
Since the Cold War ended a decade ago, France and the United States have been locked in a battle over Africa.
French diplomats and analysts were aghast when English-speaking Tutsis based in Uganda invaded Rwanda and displaced a French-backed ethnic Hutu government in 1994. They were upset once more when the Francophile Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown and replaced by Laurent Kabila last year in Zaire, now called Congo.
Paris saw both events as evidence that the United States was beginning to push them out of their "chasse garde," or private turf, in Africa.
France seeks to retain its influence over more than 12 Francophone former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa and keep them as markets for its exports, as well as sources of diamonds, oil, minerals, coffee, cocoa and other resources.
France has loaned advisers or stationed troops to prop up friendly strongmen from Senegal to Madagascar and spends billions of dollars to back the currencies of 14 countries using a form of the French franc.
The United States is supporting what it calls new leaders such as Uganda's Yoweri Museveni in efforts to introduce more democracy to a continent ruled by strongmen. It's also seeking influence through increasing trade and investment while Congress continues to cut foreign aid.
FRENCH ARE PLEASED
President Clinton this year made the first extensive tour of Africa by an American president in decades.
The Franco-American rivalry came to a head in Rwanda and the Congo.
In 1994, English-speaking Tutsis who had returned from exile in Uganda overthrew a French-backed ethnic Hutu government in Rwanda. The French backed the Hutus even though they began in April 1994 a genocide that killed more than half a million Tutsis. Recent public hearings dragged thse facts out of shame-faced public officials.
Then Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 by Mr. Kabila, who was backed by the new Rwandan government and was considered to have U.S. support.
Now that the Congo has collapsed into new warfare, the French are secretly pleased. "The Americans, who unlike France did not want Mobutu around any more, have quickly learned the sad truth," wrote Mr. Lambroschini in Le Figaro.
"Kabila is not only cruel and corrupt like his predecessor. He is just as inefficient."
According to professor Crawford Young, an Africa expert at the University of Wisconsin, U.S.-French rivalry is often exaggerated. But it does exist.
"The French long had a possessive feeling toward former sub-Saharan colonies," he said in an interview. "There has been a little bit of friction over the perception that the United States is trying to build a close relationship with some of those countries.
"There is a tendency for the French to have a cynical or Old World view of African politics. They reason, `Sure there's corruption, but that's to be expected? So why get excited? Let's help stable leaders stay in power.'"
Especially since the end of the Cold War, which ended the fierce East-West rivalry and backing for dictators from Ethiopia to Angola to Zaire, the United States has been seen in France as naively pushing for human rights and democracy at the cost of increasing instability.
The French, while briefly stating in 1990 that "there is no …
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Publication information: Article title: France Finds Policy Vindicated in Central Africa: Calls U.S. Goals Naive as 2 Nations Vie for Hegemony. Contributors: Barber, Ben - Author. Newspaper title: The Washington Times (Washington, DC). Publication date: September 17, 1998. Page number: 19. © 2009 The Washington Times LLC. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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