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Wednesday, December 24, 1997 Published at 21:28 GMT



World: Analysis

Africa: US And France Vie For Influence
image: [ BBC analyst Gidley-Kitchin ]
BBC analyst Gidley-Kitchin

France and the United States have both announced new policies towards Africa this month, after a year of bitter rivalry for influence. The stage was set for a new era in May when the English-speaking Laurent Kabila overthrewPresident Mobutu of Zaire. But our Africa Reporter, Virginia Gidley-Kitchin, asks how much will really change

No sooner had Madeleine Albright, the American Secretary of State, returned from a tour of seven African countries in mid-December than the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, set off for the continent. France, which considers its influence in Africa important in justifying its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, is keen to recover from its setback this year in Zaire, now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo.

France wanted an international intervention force to protect the Rwandan refugees in Zaire. The Americans saw this a ploy to save President Mobutu, a key French ally, from defeat at the hands of Laurent Kabila, the rebel leader backed by English-speaking leaders in Rwanda and Uganda. French right-wingers warned of an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy against France's traditional sphere of influence.

But President Mobutu's downfall in May, along with other factors, appears to have prompted a new French approach to Africa. In July France announced cuts in its military presence there. During his African tour in December, Mr Jospin said it was time to replace French paternalism in Africa with partnership.

The United States has redefined its policy too. In a speech on December-the-ninth, Mrs Albright pledged to open a new chapter in American relations with Africa. She was speaking at the start of a tour aimed at establishing ties with a new generation of African leaders, notably President Kabila, and promoting American economic interests on the continent.

This reflects a growing interest in Africa by President Clinton, who is due to go there himself in 1998. President Clinton announced a new initiative to boost growth in Africa at the Group of Seven summit meeting in June. The United States has also launched a programme designed to train an African peace-keeping force.

However it is unclear what either country's new policy will amount to. President Kabila dismissed the aid offered by Mrs Albright as a fraction of what his country needs. Mrs Albright promised to understand the local context while pursuing human rights and democracy in Africa, but Congo may strain her tolerance.

As for France, its decision not to intervene militarily in the civil war which broke out in Congo-Brazzaville in June looked like a break with tradition. But the democratically elected President Lissouba later accused France of backing his rival, General Sassou-Nguesso; and after his victory in October, General Sassou received a suspiciously warm welcome from France.






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