Sarkozy in Africa

FRENCH President Nicolas Sarkozy is apparently willing to provide a much-needed fillip to his country's relationship with Africa, particularly the French-speaking parts of the continent. During a recent visit to Algeria and Tunisia in North Africa, the newly elected president struck all the right notes.

He has discussed with the Algerian president such key elements of the Franco-African relations as economic development, energy policy and immigration.

He has also put forth his proposal of a Mediterranean Union between the southern European states and North Africa. In fact, the idea of the Union was mooted to soothe frayed nerves when the president looked set to implement tougher immigration policies. As an interior minister, Sarkozy faced flak a few years ago when he came down hard on illegal immigrants. His infamous charter flights used for repatriating illegal African immigrants drew criticism from the international community. During his election campaign too, Sarkozy vowed to enforce a more stringent immigration policy. Hence, in a way, his election was greeted with a bit of apprehension in several parts of French-speaking Africa. Immigration will continue to be a key issue in his presidency. But, during his visit to the African nations, which, incidentally, is his first trip outside Europe as the president of France, he has chosen to focus on economic cooperation. How this will translate into more economic opportunities for African immigrants remains to be seen.

In addition to a roadmap for massive investments in North Africa, Sarkozy is also keen to cooperate with a major gas-exporting country like Algeria in the matter of energy. Given Europe's interest in reducing its dependence on Russia for gas, this might be significant.

Sarkozy needs to take care of other African issues as well. France is reportedly playing the pivotal role in deploying an international peacekeeping force in Central Africa.

But the president is yet to clarify how he will press ahead with a French blueprint for peace in Darfur and how he should work on mobilising global efforts in ensuring stability in the region. It is hoped that the French president will walk the talk.

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