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West Africans Anticipate New Relationship With France


France's president-elect, Nicolas Sarkozy, will be inaugurated on Wednesday. Some West Africans, uneasy over Sarkozy's campaign statements on immigration and the status of immigrants, say they worry about their countrymen living in France as well as about the impact on Africa of Sarkozy's presidency. But some African analysts say they think Sarkozy will be good for French-speaking Africa, which, they say, relies too heavily on aid from its former colonizer. For VOA, Naomi Schwarz has more on the story from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Wary eyes in French-speaking West Africa are being directed towards France as Nicolas Sarkozy begins, on Wednesday, his presidency.

Babacar Gueye, political science professor at Dakar's Cheikh Anta Diop University, says most Africans were hoping for a different outcome.

The May 7 run-off election pitted Sarkozy, a business-oriented conservative with a reformist agenda, against Senegal-born socialist Segolene Royal.

Sarkozy's campaign statements on immigration fueled fears in French-speaking West Africa.

Mamadou Barry, spokeman for Senegal's socialist party, says even before the campaign began, Africans were aware of Sarkozy's hardline policies on immigration when he was France's interior minister.

Those included forcibly repatriating some illegal immigrants.

"His policy when he was minister of interior of putting people in the plane like others did before, his former mentors," said Barry. "People started thinking this guy is totally against immigration."

Immigration is an important issue in West Africa, where poverty drives tens of thousands each year to seek better jobs in Europe. Many more rely on the funds these immigrants send back home.

Sarkozy has said he wants to revise France's immigration policy to favor highly educated Africans over unskilled workers.

Political Science professor Gueye says this is not good for Africa. He says Africa needs its educated and skilled workers to stay home and develop the country.

But some analysts say the fear of Sarkozy is premature.

Malian women's activist Oumou Touré says most Africans only know what the media has reported about Sarkozy, especially his most incendiary remarks.

Besides, she says, you cannot judge a politician solely by what he says during a campaign.

She says there is a huge gap between actions and words, and she cannot say what impact Sarkozy will have on Africa until he has been president for two or three years.

Senegalese Socialist party spokesman Mamadou Barry hopes Sarkozy will tone down his rhetoric now that the campaign is over.

"Maybe he will have a more humanitarian view," he said. "And, frankly, we will see what really he will do to try to support the economy of those countries sending immigrants, so people will not prefer taking those small boats to go in the ocean to be able to go to France or Spain. Because he is also a very pragmatic guy. We will see really when he comes to power."

Touré says, for one thing, it is time for France to reduce its military presence in Africa.

She says there are fewer wars, and African countries would be better served if France used its resources to support development.

France has military bases in many of its former colonies and retains rapid response troops in Chad, Central African Republic and Ivory Coast.

Nigerian human rights activist Saidou Arji says Francophone Africa's relationship with its former colonizer is already changing.

"At the same time France is trying to reduce its intervention in Africa, the African countries also tried to have several partners. So now I can say that France is not the main partner in terms of trade and other sectors," said Arji.

Political science professor Babacar Gueye says this is a positive development for West Africa.

"Until now, the cooperation between France and Africa was a cooperation based on paternalism, based on aid, and it is time to change that position," said Gueye. "It is time for the African countries to find the solutions to their own problems and stop asking for aid towards France."

Gueye says the election of Nicolas Sarkozy could be the shock Africans need to finally break their dependency on France.

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