Ironically in 2007, Sarkozy had come to Senegal to mark the end of "Franceafrique," the term used to connote the cozy, post-colonial relationship that France has had with the region's dictators, like ex-Gabonese President Omar Bongo. On Friday, it was Hollande who vowed the end of Franceafrique.
"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 and Senegalese President Macky Sall also paid a visit to Goree Island, off the coast of the capital, where slaves were boarded onto ships headed to the New World. The visit is a symbolic gesture, underscoring Hollande's understanding of the difficult, and often cruel, history that Africans have endured. The two men clasped hands as they stood at the Door of No Return.
Among those waiting on the island for the presidents was Aminata Ba, 40, who wore a bright tangerine dress and head wrap, and carried a stenciled sign that read: "President Hollande: You Are At Home." She said she was heartened by Hollande's talk of improving relations with Senegal.
Africa watchers say that despite the promises of a new approach, it's unlikely that France's policies toward the continent will change much. Protesters waited for the leader to emerge from the parliament building on Friday, hoping to give him a copy of their fliers decrying the difficulty in getting visas to go to France. Immigrants who violate the terms of their visas have been returned on repatriation flights, dubbed the "Sarkozy charters."
"It seems that every time that a new French president comes in, he promises that his arrival will spell the end of Franceafrique," said Richard Downie, deputy director for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Old habits die hard. In policy terms, will we see much difference? I think not. But I think the tone will be different."
Associated Press Writer Sylvie Corbet in Dakar, and Krista Larson in Goree, contributed to this report.
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