French president's speech on Africa at center of controversy

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South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, has been forced to defend his description of Nicolas Sarkozy as "a citizen of Africa", for a speech by the French president that was widely condemned elsewhere on the continent as racist.

Mr Mbeki wrote to the rightwing French leader praising an address to a university audience in Senegal last month in which Mr Sarkozy said that Africans had turned their back on progress.

"The tragedy of Africa is that the African has never really entered into history ... They have never really launched themselves into the future," Mr Sarkozy said. "The African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time ... In this imaginary world, where everything starts over and over again, there is room neither for human endeavour, nor for the idea of progress.

"The problem of Africa ... is to be found here. Africa's challenge is to enter to a greater extent into history ... It is to realise that the golden age that Africa is forever recalling will not return, because it has never existed." Mr Sarkozy also defended France's past role in Africa by saying that while it may have made "mistakes", it "did not exploit anybody".

The speech was widely condemned, including by the head of the African Union commission, Alpha Oumar Konare. "This speech was not the kind of break we were hoping for," he told Radio France Internationale. "It reminded us of another age, especially his comments about peasants." Other critics said that while Mr Sarkozy asked younger Africans if they wanted an end to corruption and violence, he failed to acknowledge the role of France in propping up abusive regimes.

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Randll Reese Besch - 9/5/2007

No wonder Bush 43 likes this guy.