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French-speaking Rwanda turns to English

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"Jacques Chirac was a supporter of Africa, but he relied on an intimacy with leaders and the political class that is not going to be the case with President Sarkozy," says one Western diplomat in the region, speaking privately. Under Sarkozy, France is more likely to use its influence in Africa through multilateral organizations, the diplomat adds.

But there are some aspects of French policy that still roil. The French-created Common African Franc, or CFA, allows 16 African countries to trade with each other and with France on a preferential basis, but economists say it also restricts CFA countries from trading with anyone else.

Since the early 1990s, and particularly after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, many French-speaking Africans have begun to see their relationship with Paris as more burden than boon.

"Not that much has changed since liberation; Africa is still a profitable region in terms of France's commercial trade balance," says Achille Mbembe, history professor from Cameroon, who teaches at Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. "Fifty percent of Africa's uranium still goes to France's nuclear plants. If you go to the markets in Senegal, you'll find no African sodas or juices, only French ones."

In Rwanda, all of that is changing. The Franco-Rwandaise Cultural Society – once the beating heart of all things French in Kigali – has been closed, along with the French international school, the French embassy, and many of the offices of French multinational companies. For language study, Rwandans are turning to a growing industry of English-language academies, and for the plum university posts, they turn to English-language colleges like KIST.

"Officially, the policy of the Rwandan government is bilingualism, both French and English," says Jean-Baptiste Rusine, director of the KIST Language Center. "But there is something psychological at work, too. At the time of monarchy, the language of the court was the language of the people. In these times, the president and his high advisors speak English, so you will feel tempted to write proposals, or to speak more in English than in French."

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