Friday, February 04, 2005

Chutzpah may not be a French word but ....

… President Chirac has it in spades. First, he explained to various African leaders and ministers that the EU with its agricultural policies was their best friend. That took some doing but l’empereur Jacques was the man to do it.

Mind you, he forgot all about the subsidies European, particularly French, farmers receive, the still ongoing export subsidies, the anti-dumping regulations – no, hang on, he remembered those only to dismiss them with a typically French shrug.
"The world's largest (agricultural) producers are trafficking in bad faith, with their often-unfounded accusations of commercial dumping and claims that there are markets closed to their products."
It is truly unfortunate that the Africans present at the meeting in Senegal did not seem to believe him either. Perhaps, they, too, were trafficking in bad faith. I mean, why should they recall all the many environmental and other regulations that are imposed quite unnecessarily on their produce?

Why cannot they simply forget about the export and other subsidies? That would show the proper spirit towards the country that, as the BBC World Service website puts it:
“… has long tried to portray itself as Africa’s voice in the world.”
Anyone who wants to work out what is wrong with Africa could start with that. Its self-appointed voice is the country that opposes all attempts to create free trade agreements with Third World countries, supports and arms gangs like the Hutu militias in Rwanda and invades countries that used to be their colony, like the Ivory Coast, not to mention insisting that bloodthirsty and kleptomaniac dictators like Robert Mugabe be invited and feted at international gatherings.

Then President Chirac, continuing in his imperial vein, informed President Thado Mbeki that if he wanted to broker a peace in Côte d’Ivoire, he should “understand the soul of West Africa”.

It is reasonable to suggest that the President of South Africa may not know everything or understand everything about a West African country. In fact, he may know very little. It is a common western misapprehension to lump all Africans together. But, somehow, I do not think that is what l’empereur meant.

After all, the suggestion that the French or their president somehow understand the soul of West Africa is even more preposterous, even though we are talking about a largely Francophone country.

That is, of course, what bothers M Chirac as it did his predecessor, l’empereur François Mitterand. Africa, too is becoming more Anglophone and France has been at pains to try to stem that process. (So much for a common European identity.) This has involved some very unpleasant episodes, such as the support for the Hutu militias and now the intervention in the Ivory Coast.

But, as President Chirac told Radio France Internationale:
"And I would really like President Mbeki - whose process, I repeat, we do support - to immerse himself in West Africa so as to understand the mentality and the soul of West Africa, because in times of crisis, you have to really know people's mentalities and what is in people's souls."
Chirac left the Senegal summit on sustainable agriculture early in order to go to another summit in Brazzaville where he was going to discuss with seven Congo Basin leaders the best use of forestry resources while safeguarding the environment. Not, presumably, referring too much to various aspects of French involvement in the war in the other Congo, that cannot possibly do much for the environment or forestry resources.

We can but hope that the French taxpayers think this is all a good way of spending their money.

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