Vive La France and French Speaking Africa!

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Some 400 hundred soldiers from the African continent will be marching alongside their French military counterparts on Wednesday, the French national day. President Nicolas Sarkozy has invited the heads of state of former French colonies as well as various African armed forces to the July 14 national celebrations. An invitation that has stoked criticism and questioned the true nature of the colonialist “FranceAfrique” relations.

Throwing an invitation to the fourteen Francophone African countries celebrating their 50th independence anniversary this year to partake in the French National Day celebrations is a very bold step. A step that will see African heads of state of former French colonies stand side by side with President Nicolas Sarkozy as the French military parade on the Champs Elysées.

But this invitation has not gone down well with Survie, a French NGO. Survie has organized a cycling race between Lyon and Paris under the theme: “Keyed up to reach Paris before the dictators.” Willingly or unwillingly, the French President is doing his level best to stand by decision. “It is insoluble,” he confided recently. If nothing is done, people will say we do not care. If we do something about it, they treat us the neo-colonialist. ”

Guests and others …

At the government level, all arrangements have been finalized. July 14 will be dedicated to Africa. The Golden Jubilee, in fact, began Tuesday with a bang! Nicolas Sarkozy had lunch with twelve of his African counterparts. With the exception of Cote d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo, who declined the invitation and is to be represented by his Minister of Defense, and President Rajoelina of Madagascar, who is currently overwhelmed by multiple international sanctions. But the grand finale is on Wednesday, when some four hundred African military men will march down the most famous avenue in Paris alongside French soldiers.

One reason why the Ivory Coast armed forces will be conspicuously absent from the march down the Champs Elysées is because the West African country has explicitly refused to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary on the former colonizer’s soil. “It’s our anniversary, we are celebrating home… We find it difficult to understand the reasons behind this desire to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Independent States in France. It is a very ambiguous initiative,” explains Pierre Aimé Kipré, Ambassador of Cote d’Ivoire to France.

But Jacques Toubon, Secretary General of the Golden Jubilee celebrations is categorical: “With this parade, we want to pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Africans who fought for France.” “We have a common history,” he argues to no avail as Côte d’Ivoire refuses to budge. To drive their point home, the Ivorians have called on France to settle the disputes evoked by Laurent Gbagbo during the recent Africa-France summit: In reference to 2004, when the Ivorian air fleet was destroyed by French forces as well as the death in 2005 of several Ivorian demonstrators killed by French soldiers.

“Françafrique” never dies

On the occasion of the 25th Africa-France summit in Nice on May 31, Nicolas Sarkozy called for the balancing of relations between Paris and the African Continent. The two day summit saw the French President warming up to English speaking leaders like South Africa’s Jacob Zuma. An attitude many insisted was tantamount to a snob of its traditional West African leaders. Whatever the case, the heads of former French colonies are not spiteful. After all, the French President had invited them to the French national holiday. And on the other hand, is it not advisable to desist from igniting the wrath of mighty economic partners like France?

And had Nicolas Sarkozy not warned that he wanted to develop relations with the whole continent and particularly with English-speaking countries like Nigeria and the rainbow nation, the two African economic power-houses? This change is indeed already under way. In fact, the Elysées palace (French White House) has supported their economic collaboration with figures. 52% of 8.9 billion euros from the French development aid went to Africa in 2009. North Africa and the 14 Francophone countries in question received only 18% (1.448 billion euros). French speaking West African leaders should content themselves with a “Family” reunion this year. Vive La France! Vive July 14.

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