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Ondimba's Visit to Paris Raises Question on France's Policy Toward Gabon

Ondimba's Visit to Paris Raises Question on France's Policy Toward Gabon

Ondimba's Visit to Paris Raises Question on France's Policy Toward Gabon

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Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba is paying a working visit to France this week. Mr. Bongo is expected to lunch with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday, amid criticism that France's old and controversial relationship with Africa has not really changed.

President Ali Bongo's visit to France comes less than three months after he succeeded his father as leader of Gabon. It also comes amid criticism from human rights groups after Gabon's government-controlled media council suspended six newspapers on grounds they violated journalism ethics.

In June, when President Sarkozy was booed in Gabon when he attended the funeral of former president Omar Bongo in Libreville. Critics claimed France was backing son Ali Bongo as a presidential candidate - charges Mr. Sarkozy denied at the time. The younger Bongo was elected president in August following a disputed vote.

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Sarkozy vowed a rupture with what is known as France-Afrique - France's historically close ties with its former colonies and African dictators.

Today, the French government argues it is pushing democracy in Africa and notes that a large share of French foreign aid goes to African countries. France is also pushing closer ties with non-francophone countries.

But critics say little has changed when it comes to France's old colonies. Alain Antil, an Africa analyst at the French Institute for International Affairs in Paris, largely shares this view.

Antil says France's relationship with Gabon in particular is marked by continuity with the past. He notes France was among the first to congratulate Ali Bongo after he was declared president, despite criticism over the election.

Antil says that while Sarkozy may want to forge a new relationship with Africa, the French president is having a hard time changing the status quo - which includes direct, personal ties with African leaders.

In the case of Gabon, Antil notes President Bongo vowed to crack down on corruption after his election. On Monday, one of his top aides resigned over a corruption scandal. But critics like Antil say it's difficult to change what he describes as an entrenched system of corruption in Gabon.