Conflicts, energy top agenda as Hollande visits S.Africa

October 14, 2013
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French leader Francois Hollande/AFP
French leader Francois Hollande/AFP
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 14 – French leader Francois Hollande arrived in South Africa Monday for a two-day state visit in which he is set to push for greater cooperation on African crises with the continental powerhouse.

Economic ties will also dominate talks between Hollande and his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma on Monday, with the two nations due to sign accords including one on developing South Africa’s nuclear power.

France will also grant energy-strapped South Africa’s power giant Eskom a loan of 100 million euros ($130 million) for the construction of a solar power station and a wind farm.

Hollande flew into Johannesburg early on Monday and was due to hold a meeting with Zuma shortly afterwards.

The visit is the first by a French leader since Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to Africa’s largest economy in 2008 as part of a drive to seek new partnerships beyond France’s former colonies.

France is still heavily involved in security and peacekeeping in its former colonies where it has often stepped in militarily.

However Hollande has tried hard to shrug off the negative image of “France-Afrique”, a term used to describe the secretive use of political and economic influence between elites in France and former colonies.

France, a “big player” in Africa, is trying to “get South Africa to be playing a stronger role in continental security efforts,” said David Hornsby, a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand.

France “wants to play an active role in the geopolitical future of Africa, and to do it, it needs partners that are strong enough, well established,” said political analyst Koffi Kouakou.

“And the only one really who is established… is South Africa. There is no way France can have a strategy (for Africa) ignoring South Africa,” he said.

The two countries have often disagreed over how to tackle conflicts such as those in Libya and Ivory Coast.

However French officials say Hollande has maintained close contact with Zuma over the situation in Mali, where French forces intervened against Islamist groups this year.

Another issue of concern is the deeply troubled Central African Republic, stricken by what the United Nations has termed a “total breakdown of law and order” since a bloody coup in March.

South Africa pulled its troops out of the CAR in March after 15 soldiers were killed as the Seleka rebel coalition seized power, and French forces helped with their evacuation.

However tensions arose over French troops’ refusal to get involved in the fighting, evidenced by an open letter written by French Ambassador to South Africa Elisabeth Barbier to explain “their political position of non-interference.”

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