French President Nicolas Sarkozy begins a three-nation tour Thursday in Africa aimed to promote peace, democracy and French business interests. Mr. Sarkozy promised a new relationship with Africa, but experts say not much has changed.
President Sarkozy is focusing on three francophone nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Niger. He will be talking politics, notably peace in Congo Kinshasa where the government and Tutsi rebels just signed a peace agreement.
He will also advocate democracy, likely in Congo Brazzaville where the country's president is preparing for elections this summer. French officials reportedly say the visit should not be interpreted as endorsing his campaign.
When he took office in 2007, Mr. Sarkozy vowed to break with France's past relationship with Africa. But Muzong Kodi, an analyst at the London-based think-tank Chatham House says that promise has not yet been realized.
"Nothing has changed actually. If you follow his discourse in the last few months, he has not broken with the tradition of France-Africa relations," Kodi said.
French business interest in Africa is another constant. Mr. Sarkozy is traveling with a high-level business delegation. Kodi says In Brazzaville French officials will be looking for new oil supplies. In Niger, the French nuclear company Areva has recently signed a contract for uranium exploitation, and in Kinshasa France will be loooking at possibilities to invest in the telecommunications and hydropower sectors.
African leaders are looking forward to Mr. Sarkozy's visit as well, and not just because of business possibilities.
"In Congo Brazzavile, the president is going to be standing for elections soon, so the visit of President Sarkozy may strengthen the president's hand. The same goes for Niger, where the president has been itching to change the constitution so that he could be re-elected. So the visit of the French president there may be interpreted as support," Kodi said.
France is facing growing competition for influence in Africa from China. But as Kodi points out, French ties on the continent stretch back decades.