French President Francois Hollande has told African leaders that democracy is not a lesson but a right that those in power have a responsibility to exercise. The French leader who is in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), vowed before leaving Paris to attend this year’s Francophonie Summit, that he would make it known to leaders in Africa that France would no longer play political games with undemocratic and corrupt leaders.
During the summit that opened Saturday, M Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged leaders from the French-speaking world to reinforce democracy and human rights, comments that appeared to focus attention squarely on the host. Congo has been widely criticised for a flawed election last year that won President Joseph Kabila a second term, and for killings, rapes and other abuses committed by fighters in the rebel-plagued eastern province of North Kivu.
Before leaving France for the summit, M Hollande, a star invitee to this year’s Francophonie summit and the first to be held in central Africa called Congo’s rights record “totally unacceptable”. Representatives from more than 70 French-speaking countries arrived in Kinshasa for the 14th Francophonie summit, with Congo’s M23 rebellion and the Islamist takeover of northern Mali topping the agenda.
At the summit’s opening ceremony M Hollande greeted President Kabila with the briefest of handshakes but warmly embraced Abdou Diouf, the former Senegalese president and current secretary general of the Francophonie. Members of Hollande’s entourage said he had earlier met privately with Kabila for a “frank and direct” discussion about human rights that lasted 30 minutes. He also held a meeting with Congo’s top opposition figure, Etienne Tshisekedi. Tshisekedi told journalists that Hollande had been “very receptive” during the 20 minute meeting.
Prime Minister Harper, whose government had also indicated concern about Congo’s rights record, gave a speech to delegates underscoring the value of democracy in a region notorious for troubled elections and sit-tight leaders. “All governments, without exception, must guarantee their citizens good governance, the rule of law and the respect of individual rights,” Harper said. “For the first time the great francophone family is meeting here in central Africa. It’s an opportunity to respect individual liberties, to reinforce democracy and to speak of peace,” he said. Canadian government officials have said Harper has “serious concerns” about Congo’s rights record and that he would be meeting with civil society groups during his visit.