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French President Nicolas Sarkozy Visits Senegal

  • Naomi Schwarz

France's newly elected president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is visiting Senegal Thursday. It is his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president. Mr. Sarkozy was widely criticized during his campaign for controversial statements about Africa and immigration. But Senegalese analysts say they hope the visit signals Mr. Sarkozy's appreciation for the important relationship between France and Africa. Naomi Schwarz has more from Dakar.

Watchful eyes and ears will be directed towards President Sarkozy as he makes his first state visit to Senegal.

Moubarak Lo, an independent economist, says it is good news for Senegal that Mr. Sarkozy is visiting early in his presidency. But he says he is waiting to see what Mr. Sarkozy says once he arrives.

"What is sure is a new kind of relationship is indispensable. So if Sarkozy does not indicate there are changes, the people will ask for the change. So it is a very important day for the African-French relationship," said Lo.

Mr. Sarkozy arrives in Senegal after a brief stop in Libya. His stay in Senegal will also be brief. He will spend fewer than 24 hours here, during which he will sign an investment agreement with Senegal's president, Abdoulaye Wade, and give a speech at the main university to prominent members of the Senegalese community.

Lo says he hopes France, which has long been Senegal's biggest investor, will recognize that a developing Africa needs to cultivate strong relationships with other countries as well.

"The new partnership is for Africa to have a good relationship with the French, but also to open its door to all the partners: Americans, Asians, all should come with open hands and work with Africa," he said.

Many Africans are wary of Mr. Sarkozy because of the hard line he took on immigration during his campaign for president, as well as during his earlier years in government. As interior minister, he supported forcibly repatriating illegal immigrants. During his campaign he proposed a ministry of immigration to teach French values to immigrants, a proposal that was widely criticized. He also said he would support revising France's immigration policy to favor well-educated professionals over unskilled workers.

Prominent Senegalese human rights activist Alioune Tine says this is a mistake.

"I think that in closing his frontier to African youth is not a very good sign of cooperation between France and African countries," he said. "I think that we need very open cooperation about jobs, about all the opportunities, resources, jobs."

Immigration is a key issue in Africa, where many rely on money sent back home by immigrants - legal and illegal - working overseas.

Tine says he thinks Mr. Sarkozy's stance is becoming more moderate, now he has won the election.

"Being president of France, I think that in the issue of cultural diversity, the actions of Sarkozy is the strongest than any other action of other president of France. I think that it was a very good message for Africa," said Tine.

He points to Mr. Sarkozy's appointment of ministers from diverse backgrounds, including from North Africa and Senegal.

"Previously, I think that many of these minorities were not present in France's government," he said.

Senegalese activists and analysts also say they hope Mr. Sarkozy will make Franco-African cooperation dependent on good governance in African countries.

Mr. Sarkozy flies to Gabon on Friday for the third and final leg of his African tour.