Full honours as Sarkozy courts Zuma

2011-03-02 13:58

Paris – France hosts President Jacob Zuma today with all the pomp due the leader of an emerging regional power and a key player in Paris’s plan to use its G20 presidency to reform world finance.

Zuma’s official programme begins with President Nicolas Sarkozy welcoming the South African leader with full state honours for a state dinner at the Elysee Palace.

Sarkozy holds the rotating presidency of both the G8 and G20 power groups, and Zuma is leader of the newest member of the influential Brics, the fast-growing economies of Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa.

As such the leader of the English-speaking giant will be greeted with full state honours in a capital whose African relations have traditionally rotated around client states and oil producers in former French colonies.

Sarkozy is determined his G20 legacy will be the reform of the world financial and trade system, in order to iron out the imbalances that led to the recent global economic catastrophe, and for that he needs the Brics’ support.

In order to win the emerging nations’ backing for his market and exchange rate regulation plans, he has put development aid and a world tax on financial transactions at the heart of his ambitious programme.

And by courting English-speaking countries such as South Africa and Nigeria he hopes to kill off France’s reputation as only being interested in those parts of Africa dominated by French companies and murky influence networks.

Zuma, who has visited France three times since 2008 and who was guest of honour at last year’s France-Africa summit, will therefore enjoy all the pomp that Paris can muster, including an escort by the famous Republican Guard.

He will also hold meetings with Prime Minister Francois Fillon, the speakers of both French parliamentary chambers and with the mayor of Paris.

The leaders will discuss the G8-G20 agenda, and the wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world, but also the many crises troubling Africa, in countries where regional giant South Africa holds much sway.

Besides political crises in Sudan and Madagascar, Sarkozy will address the stand-off in Ivory Coast, where France has lost influence over Laurent Gbagbo and fears his refusal to step down will plunge the country into civil war.

Zuma’s search for a compromise between Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara, widely considered to have beaten the incumbent in a November vote, saw Ouattara supporters shouting “Zuma thief” when he visited Abidjan last week.

Pretoria has also been accused of paralysis over Libya’s revolt, noting simply “with grave concern” reports of civilian deaths and calling for all parties to “exercise restraint in order to prevent further loss of life”.

Of course, alongside the international agenda, both countries hope such a high-profile visit will strengthen economic ties.

France is the sixth-largest supplier of South Africa’s imports, but only the 19th-biggest destination of its exports.

France supplied South Africa with its only nuclear power plant, in Koeberg, and its state-owned energy giant Areva is keen to supply two of its new generation EPR plants to plug South Africa’s yawning electricity gap.

Environmental pressure group Greenpeace advised Zuma not to sign up to any more nuclear power stations, “the worst choice”, given delays, cost overruns and security issues at France’s own power stations.

“The state of power stations in the most nuclear-powered country in the world is cause for concern,” Greenpeace’s Sophia Majnoni said in a statement.

But no contracts are expected to be signed this week.

“South Africa is reviewing its entire energy strategy, so there won’t be any decision on this matter,” a Sarkozy aide admitted.

Nevertheless, France does expect to sign a new partnership framework agreement, which foresees a billion euros in investment in South Africa by the French international development agency.

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