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Former Senegal President Optimistic About Democracy in Africa

Abdou Diouf, Secretary General of the International Francophone Organization, looks on during the closing news conference, File October 24, 2010.

Senegal's former president Abdou Diouf offered upbeat comments about the spread of democracy in Africa -- including in his own country, despite controversy over the Senegalese presidential elections. Diouf heads the Paris-based International Organization of La Francophonie.

Former President Abdou Diouf will not comment in detail over Senegal's presidential elections, where incumbent Abdoulaye Wade faces a run-off vote this month against rival Macky Sall.

Despite all the fears, Diouf said, Senegal has completed its first round of elections under peaceful and normal conditions.

Diouf served as Senegal's president for nearly two decades, stepping down after he was defeated by Wade in the 2000 vote. He earned widespread praise in the way he ceded power -- telephoning Mr. Wade to congratulate him on his victory.

Political opponents now criticize Mr. Wade for increasingly authoritarian policies -- and for seeking a third term in office, despite a constitutional two-term limit.

Today, Diouf heads the International Organisation of la Francophonie, a body representing 75 states and governments that aims to promote the Francophone language and culture -- along with peace, democracy and development. In a wide-ranging interview, he expressed confidence in Africa's emergence as a key player in the 21st century.

Increasingly, Diouf says, elections are taking place regularly across the continent, independent institutions and opposition groups are forming and civil society is more active. With good economic growth, he believes, Africa will astonish the world.

Still, there remain major problems, including in the vast, resource-rich Democratic Republic of Congo, which is mired in conflict and poverty. The Francophonie organization will hold its next summit in Kinshasa, in October.

Diouf says the summit is an occasion to help the DRC confront its problems and improve its record on democracy, the state of law, good governance and human rights.

Diouf also argues the French language still holds a place in a world where English, Chinese and Arabic are major heavyweights. He is fighting for its inclusion as one of the main official languages at this year's Olympic Games in London. And he points to the 220 million French speakers around the world -- a number that he says is growing.