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France/South Africa – Mali – African Union

Published on May 31, 2012
Statements by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at his joint press conference with Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (excerpts)

Paris, May 29, 2012


THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m extremely happy to welcome the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. She’s one of the first figures I’ve met in my new capacity as the French government’s Foreign Minister. I’m happy about it because South Africa plays a particularly important role, not only in Africa itself but all over the global stage.

We share many progressive approaches with her government and have good bilateral relations. But my colleague and I agreed, now that France is in a new situation, that those relations should be extended. Indeed, we have similar views on many points and, on behalf of our governments, we’d both like to particularly strengthen our relationship.

This will be true bilaterally. A whole series of meetings is planned and will be kept to and built on, whether it be in the cultural field, for example, or in the economic field, where the prospects are considerable. But what’s perhaps new is that we agreed to consult one another before major international meetings, and in particular we reviewed our assessments of important, pressing issues such as what’s happening in the Sahel, in Madagascar and – in another context – in Syria.

In short, it’s an extremely stimulating new departure for the friendly relations between South Africa and France, and in this respect I’m very happy to welcome my South African colleague.

Q. – You talked about strengthening relations with South Africa, who is, among other things, a candidate for a post on the African Union Commission. Does this mean you support that candidature?

I’d also like to return to the situation in Mali. You talk about how to help the societies and governments in the region as much as possible to get that country out of the crisis. Can you tell us anything concrete? What do you envisage? Again this morning, we heard President Hollande asking the states in the region to refer the matter to the Security Council – but what exactly should they expect of it? What’s your suggestion?

THE MINISTER – I’ll try to answer quickly, but let me add that when it comes to South Africa – and even though, as Foreign Minister, one mustn’t mix personal feelings with the issues one has to deal with – I have a special sensitivity, because the oldest among you may remember that, as François Mitterrand’s young prime minister, it was I who fought the battle against apartheid by securing a blockade. I also remember a picture that flashed around the world: the prime minister I was at the time, standing outside the South African Embassy of the time, at the height of apartheid, to protest following the murder of a black activist. I have those pictures in mind because today I talk to our South African friends in a context that is, fortunately, entirely different.


On your questions about Mali, everything there is going wrong at the same time: a state that no longer exists, a north-south divide, terrorism and the threat of famine.

What’s France’s position? France isn’t going to intervene directly: of course it’s up to the Africans to intervene first of all – both the Malians and the regional organizations. But France can have her say and help.

The first thing, quite obviously, is to seek to restore constitutional order and asserting territorial integrity. At European level, a number of processes are already under way, but too few. At international level – I’m thinking of the United Nations Secretary-General and the United Nations itself – there are actions to be carried out both for development and, at the same time, for security, because you can’t separate one from the other.

This morning with the African Union Chairperson, this afternoon with my South African colleague, yesterday with the United Nations Secretary-General, with our American partners and with many others, we’ve been seeking ways to be effective and prevent the spread, the contagion of what’s happening in Mali.

I said in an article published this afternoon that we must avoid a “Malian Afghanistan”. Faced with the gravity of the situation, we’re mobilized; we’re there for one another. That can involve a whole series of practical measures, but first and foremost, of course, it’s for Mali’s neighbouring countries and all the African countries to mobilize and act.


Regarding the post of African Union Commission Chairperson, it’s not for France to interfere in a decision that is the African Union members’ responsibility and theirs alone. I’m well aware that a whole series of things may have been said, but the French government’s position is perfectly clear: it’s for the members of the African Union to take their decision. It’s not for France – who is, by definition, not a member of that Union – to indicate this or that choice. I said so to Ms Nkoana-Mashabane; this position is perfectly clear; it will be respected. (…)./.

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