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Africa Concerned Over Possible  Le Pen Victory - 2002-04-23


People in French-speaking West African nations are voicing concern over a strong showing made by French right-wing leader Jean Marie Le Pen in France's first round of presidential elections Sunday.

The surprise victory by the right-leaning politician in France has prompted a wave of concern among Africans who see the French right's anti-immigration policies as threatening to Franco-African relations. Many Africans see members of the French right as less likely than their leftist counterparts to remain engaged in helping and cooperating with developing nations.

That concern has been obvious this week in newspapers across the region following news that French right wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen had made a strong showing in the first round of presidential elections Sunday. Newspapers from Senegal to the Ivory Coast expressed alarm at what columnists said was a sign of a surge in xenophobia and racism in France.

People in nations that were formerly under French colonial rule in this region have traditionally looked to France as a model for democracy, and a source of economic assistance.

France is home to many West African immigrants, as well as students. Armand Belga is a 28-year-old teacher in Abidjan who, like many Ivorians, hopes to study in France. He says he worries that the election of right-wing politicians there will mean France will have less interest in helping the former colonies. "It's a very bad thing. It's bad for Africa because we are poor," he said. "We hope to one day go to France, to look for money, to do what we want to do. But now, it will be impossible for the people of West Africa to go there. That is why I think the relationship between France and us will not be good. I think that if Mr. Le Pen comes to power in France, the economic aid will be cut."

Expressing a less popular view, but one that is nonetheless heard on the streets of Abidjan, is Charles Zadi, a teacher. Mr. Zadi angrily says he would welcome a distancing from France, which he charges has historically meddled in the affairs of its former colonies in Africa.

"I hope that Mr. Le Pen is elected president of France," he said. "Like that, colonialism in all its forms will end ... all of the countries of Africa will turn to themselves and will be left alone to develop, instead of always waiting for France to help us, instead of always holding out our hand."

"Let Mr. Le Pen come to power and let him stop all bilateral cooperation. We will see who needs who," said Mr. Zadi.

France remains the number one trading partner of most of its former colonies in West Africa, maintaining strong financial interests in the region.

Jean-Marie Le Pen has pledged he would continue French cooperation with Africa, but has made it clear he believes France should reduce the number of immigrants it accepts from the continent.