Hollande begins state visit to South Africa

Visit to focus on energy, economic partnership and security cooperation on African continent.

    Hollande begins state visit to South Africa
    French officials are hoping President Zuma will help facilitate an AU peacekeeping force to the CAR [EPA]

    France's president has arrived in South Africa for a two-day state visit in which he is set to push for greater cooperation on African crises with the continental powerhouse.

    Economic ties will also dominate talks between Francois Hollande and his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, on Monday, with the two nations due to sign accords including one on developing South Africa's nuclear power.

    France will also grant energy-strapped South Africa's power giant Eskom a loan of $130m for the construction of a solar power station and a wind farm.

    Hollande flew into Johannesburg early on Monday and was due to hold a meeting with Zuma shortly afterwards.

    The visit is the first by a French leader since Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to Africa's largest economy in 2008 as part of a drive to seek new partnerships beyond France's former colonies.

    France is still heavily involved in security and peacekeeping in its former colonies where it has often stepped in militarily.

    However, Hollande has tried hard to shrug off the negative image of  "France-Afrique", a term used to describe the secretive use of political and economic influence between elites in France and former colonies.

    'Big player'

    France, a "big player" in Africa, is trying to "get South Africa to be playing a stronger role in continental security efforts," said David Hornsby, a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. 

     There is no way France can have a strategy (for Africa) ignoring South Africa

    Koffi Kouakou

    Political analyst Koffi Kouakou said France "wants to play an active role in the geopolitical future of Africa, and to do it, it needs partners that are strong enough, well established".

    "And the only one really who is established... is South Africa. There is no way France can have a strategy [for Africa] ignoring South Africa," he said.

    The two countries have often disagreed over how to tackle conflicts such as those in Libya and Ivory Coast.

    However, French officials say Hollande has maintained close contact with Zuma over the situation in Mali, where French forces intervened against northern rebels this year.

    Another issue of concern is the deeply troubled Central African Republic (CAR), stricken by what the United Nations has termed a "total breakdown of law and order" since a bloody coup in March.

    South Africa pulled its troops out of the CAR in March after 15 soldiers were killed there as the Seleka rebel coalition seized power, and French forces helped with their evacuation.


    However tensions arose over French troops' refusal to get involved in the fighting, evidenced by an open letter written by French Ambassador to South Africa Elisabeth Barbier to explain "their political position of non-interference."

    French officials are hoping Zuma will use his influence within the African Union to help smooth preparations for a peacekeeping force to be deployed in the troubled state.

    In general, France and South Africa have enjoyed warm relations, partly born of the prominent role France played in attempts to isolate the white-minority apartheid regime and close links between their ruling parties - the Socialists and the African National Congress.

    On the economic front, aides to Hollande said some agreements on energy and transport were in the final stages of negotiation but were not sure to be signed during the visit.

    French companies are notably awaiting a decision on whether South Africa will go ahead with plans to build more nuclear power stations.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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