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France's Burden in Africa

Letting Africans save Africa has become an operating objective for world diplomats. But that's been difficult for one former colonial power, France.

Last Saturday, its fighter jets destroyed the tiny Air Force of Ivory Coast, one of its former colonies. France was retaliating for a government air strike that had just killed nine French soldiers. Those troops were part of a larger UN peacekeeping force trying to keep Ivory Coast from slipping back into a civil war between northern Muslim rebels and a Christian-dominated government.

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The French airstrike only stirred up old anticolonial passions, leading to riots that have threatened French citizens and businesses in Ivory Coast's capital, Abidjan.

Like the US in Iraq, France has both good intentions in Ivory Coast and a messy situation.

On Tuesday, however, the continent's most respected leader, South African President Thabo Mbeki, flew into Abidjan to try to calm the situation.

Mr. Mbeki has long tried to rid Africa of any lingering colonial patterns. Most of all, he may have been trying to prevent France from ousting Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, as many suspect France feels it may need to do. That would have been a serious setback for Africa's new desire to solve its own political crises.

The South African leader intervened in a problem that's growing all along Africa's north: clashes between Christians and radical Muslims. Sudan has been the main hotbed of violence in that religious split.

France must tread more carefully in its old turf, even if it has UN approval. Backward steps won't help Africa make necessary forward steps.


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