The Africa of the night

Sarkozy did nothing of the kind.

Many had believed him when, as a presidential candidate, he committed himself to a postcolonial clean-up in a speech in Benin in 2006: ‘We must rid Franco-African relations of the networks of a bygone age, of informal emissaries who have no mandate other than the one they invent for themselves.’

There would be no more nodding and winking, no more ‘secrets and ambiguities’: ‘Relations between modern states can’t simply depend on the quality of relations between heads of state but must hinge on square and honest dialogue.’

Yet since he took office, Sarkozy has perpetuated France’s time-honoured tradition of parallel diplomacy in Africa. One set of advisers presides in public over the official business of l’Afrique de jour, while Robert Bourgi, in tandem with the Elysée chief of staff, Claude Guéant, is in charge of l’Afrique de nuit, where the lucrative, personalised politics that Sarkozy denounced during his presidential campaign continue to thrive.

Stephen Smith writes about the retreat of la Françafrique in the London Review of Books. Hat tip to Rachel Strohm.