Friday, November 09, 2007

Sarkozy to the Rescue: Lessons to Unlearn By Abimbola Lagunju

Sometime at the end of October, a plane with a group of 6 French Aid Workers, 3 French journalists, 2 Spanish pilots and 4 members of crew and a Belgian were arrested while trying to fly out 103 children who the Chadian authorities claim to have been abducted by the French aid workers.

As the story unfolded, it was found out that the children were not Darfuri orphans as claimed by the aid workers, but Chadian children with living parents and relatives. It turned out that these aid workers had, under false pretences, convinced the parents of these children to entrust them to their care for education in nearby towns.

While the drama of arrest of the group was going on in the town of Abeche, unsuspecting French foster parents of these “orphans” were waiting anxiously in the airport for the arrival of the plane bearing their foster children. Each of these foster parents had indeed been made to pay some money in advance by the “charity association” for the “logistics and administration” of bringing the children over from Africa.

There is no doubt that this looks and smells like an advanced case of 419. Not having famous section in their Criminal Code, the Chadian authorities immediately charged the group with “abduction,” “kidnapping” and “conspiracy to traffic” children. In Nigeria, the group would also have been charged under the 419 code in addition to the two Chadian charges. In the spirit of good neighbourliness and African fraternity, Nigerian authorities will do well in sharing this famous code with their Chadian counterparts in order to increase the burden of guilt on future adventurers.

Enter the French president! On hearing the case, Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy acted the judge. He said “I think they were wrong to do what they did.” This gave a cue to his Chadian counterpart, who delved into history books and declared “they treat us like animals….it is dreadful, I am revolted. I cannot accept it….here is the truth about this Europe that portrays itself as helping, this Europe which seeks to give lessons to Africa.” He vowed that the culprits would be punished according to Chadian laws. Mr. Idriss Deby also acted the judge.

About a week after the incident occurred, Mr. Sarkozy went to Chad and by the evening of the same the day he was flying back to France via Spain with seven of the detainees – three journalists and four Spanish hostesses. Somehow, the two judges in a private Ndjamena court session, probably over lunch, decided on the case. They acquitted some and decided to review the case of the others at a probable next sitting. Mr. Sarkozy, apparently the senior judge, later declared that the others would be released whatever the outcome of the sidelined Chadian courts. According to BBC, the French president said he would go again to Chad “and bring back those who stayed behind, regardless of what they have done.”

It is indeed laudable that a president passionately seeks to protect its citizens in any part of the world “regardless of what they have done,” however the behaviour of Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy in the management of this crisis needs an analysis in the light of the utterance of Idriss Deby that Europe seeks to give lessons to Africa. Here, there are some examples of lessons which have to be unlearnt. Firstly, the French president usurped the role of courts of law. He became the law himself and pronounced the group of sixteen guilty. Then he appealed his own judgement and reversed his decision about the collective guilt. Mr. Sarkozy acted as if France did not have any institutions in place to handle the matter.

Secondly, not satisfied with usurping the role of the President of the Supreme Court of France, he also took over the role of the Ministry of foreign affairs. He became the Ambassador and the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the same time. He personally took the four hostesses to Madrid and ceremoniously handed them over to the Spanish Prime Minister. This was not the first time that Monsieur Sarkozy would assume all these roles. The whole world was astonished when a few weeks after assuming office, he was able, through his ex-wife, to secure the release of 5 Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor who had been accused of infecting over four hundred Libyan children with HIV virus and had been sentenced to death. The six medics were also flown in the French presidential jet to Sofia. Even the European Union was surprised.

It beats the wildest imagination that any African president, whose citizens have been found to have contravened the laws of a western country will fly to the country to directly “negotiate” the release of the citizens. He will probably meet with a very junior official without an office space. And he will be given loads and loads of lectures on the respect of the rule of law to take back with him on his return trip. Is it imaginable that an African president, under any circumstances, whether in a foreign land or in his own country, could have taken these Sarkozy steps without being flayed by the world press for not respecting the rule of law? He would have been given names like “strongman,” or “dictator” to transmit the image that he tramples over all the institutions in his country. One cannot help but think of Monsieur Sarkozy as a strongman too. An international strongman, that tramples not only upon the institutions of his own country, but also of other countries, and in this case, the institutions of a poor African country to which “Europe seeks to give lessons.”

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