French president commits to exchange in Congo

Updated at: 10/13/2012 11:05 AM
By MELANIE GOUBY

(AP) KINSHASA, Congo - French President Francois Hollande said his country was committed to facilitating freedom of movement, exchange and trade within the French-speaking world during a Saturday visit to Congo for the Francophonie Summit.

A celebration of the French language, the summit serves as an occasion for leaders of French-speaking countries and others to meet and discuss pressing political issues.

"The French language must carry democracy, human rights, pluralism, the respect of freedom of expression, every human being must be able to choose his leaders, those are the principles that francophones must carry," Hollande said.

Organized for the first time in a Central African country, this year’s summit is taking place in the Congolese capital but the botched presidential and legislative elections of November 2011 have jeopardized its organization.

Hollande hinted at irregularities that marked the re-election of Congo President Joseph Kabila. The French president initially threatened not to attend the summit but ultimately confirmed his participation in July, saying he wants to break away from the traditional paternalistic ways of France toward Africa, a theme he embraced in his speech Saturday.

"I wanted to come to Kinshasa to express again my faith in Africa’s future," he said.

Hollande’s first trip to Africa since his elections as France’s head of state in May has generated a lot of debate around France’s role in Africa and it has been portrayed as an opportunity for the French president to break away from his predecessors’ attitude towards Africa.

On Friday, Hollande made a stop in the former French colony of Senegal, where ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a speech five years ago that was viewed as deeply insulting to Africans whom he said had "not yet entered into history."

"I want to declare here my willingness to renew the relationship between France and Africa. The era of Franceafrique is over. There is now a France and there is an Africa. And there is a partnership between France and Africa, based on relationships that are founded on respect," he said.

Hollande said he wanted to remove barriers to allow for stronger exchanges and freedom of movement within the French-speaking world by facilitating visas acquisition, boosting aid to development and trade and campaigning for the creation of a global organization for the environment based in Africa.

Crisis resolution should be part of the new francophone deal too, he said.

"Here in Kinshasa I am thinking about the population in the Kivu region. I think about this civilians’ population who are massacred, these women who are raped, these children who are enrolled (in armed groups)", he said.

A new rebellion in eastern Congo that began earlier this year has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and created a humanitarian crisis. The M23 rebel group led by former Congolese army high-ranking officers, is allegedly supported by the neighboring country of Rwanda, though Rwanda’s government denies the allegations. Since July, a series of conferences of the Great Lakes region countries have attempted to find a solution to the crisis, but little has been achieved.

One solution put forward by Congo is to broaden the the U.N.’s mandate. The U.N. has operated in Congo for more than 10 years, but the work is often criticized for its inefficiency.

"We must support all the U.N. efforts so that it is more present here in Congo for the security in the east. I am favorable to the broadening of the MONUSCO mandate," Hollande said.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)