Hollande defends DRC visit, promises new French Africa policy
French President François Hollande has promised to “turn the page” in France’s relations with Africa. In an exclusive interview with RFI and its partners, Hollande ruled out direct French military intervention in wartorn Mali and defended his decision to meet both the president and the leader of the opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“I am coming to Africa to speak directly, transparently and with respect,” Hollande told journalists from RFI, France 24 and TV5 Monde on the eve of his first visit to the continent as head of state.
Hollande was to address the Senegalese parliament on Friday, five years after his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, ruffled feathers with a speech that declared that “African man has not entered into history often enough” and claimed that the continent was locked in a “lost paradise of childhood”.
But he denied that he would be trying to repair the damage Sarkozy is alleged to have caused, while claiming that he would break with the notorious Françafrique policy often accused of being neo-colonialist.
“I’m not coming to make a speech that will erase a previous one,” he said. “I’m coming to give a speech to write a new page with Africa.”
That means no French troops going to Mali, where armed Islamists have taken control of much of the north of the country on the back of a Tuareg separatist rebellion and where Al Qaeda is threatening to kill six French hostages.
France will back an African force that is supposed to be preparing an intervention in Mali, Hollande said, and would ask the UN to give such a move its backing.
It would also provide logistical support and information, the president said, but he ruled out both sending troops and discussions with “terrorists” who “impose sharia, cut off people’s hands and destroy monuments up until now considered part of the world’s heritage”.
Hollande defended his decision to meet Kabila, saying that “France wants both to respect its interlocutors but also tell them the truth”, which is not “France’s truth but that of fundamental rights, essential freedoms and democracy”.
But he will also be meeting Etienne Tshisekedi, who stood against Kabila for the presidency and claims to have been robbed of victory, and insisted that “I try to have good state-to-state relations but I also recognise the opposition when they accept democracy”.
Hollande’s remarks drew a scornful response from former Sarkozy minister Bernard Debré, who accused the president of knowing “absolutely nothing” about the continent and declared that Kabila is not “the most democratic man in the world”.