Zoé’s Ark; Sarko’s drowning

Posted in Chad, Corruption, Darfur, France, Media, news, Refugees, Sarkozy, spectacle, Tchad by Deputy city editor on October 30, 2007

Zoé’s Ark drops the Elysée in the deepest of African fiascos. French nationals are being held in Chad where they are threatened with 20 years in jail for allegedly kidnapping children from Darfur.

Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, has played a blinder with the rhetoric. He says the French may even have planned to kill the children and harvest their organs. Sixteen Europeans including nine French citizens are now being held in the affair. And this, as a seemingly deranged Sarko is on his way to Washington for what was to have been a triumphant reunion with his friend George Bush.

By any standards Déby, a French-educated kleptocrat, election-rigger and warlord whose controversial son was recently mysteriously killed in Paris, has pulled off a magnificent coup de théâtre, not so much striking a blow against the snooty French, but grabbing Sarkozy by the nuts and squeezing.

In addition to the pretty French nursemaids and their helpers he holds three journalists and seven Spanish air crew. And a Boeing 757. So kerching! It’s pay day for Déby. Sarko, meanwhile, looks deranged and not at all the man in charge of even his own emotions after storming out of an interview with 60 Minutes, after he was asked about, er, Her.

He unwisely staged his tantrum in the presence of Lesley Stahl, one of the grandest dames of American TV news. Asking about Cecilia may have been impertinent but it was certainly predictable. So why was Sarko not prepared? He had already called his press secretary an “imbecile” for having wasted his time by scheduling the interview on a busy day. Such self-revelation is not the calm, collected, controlled behaviour of a statesman. Not even if Sarko is right and it is true that the American media are utterly debased in their obsession with sex and celebrity over substance.

As if this was not bad enough, now Sarko is being made to look like a goat by an African thug who is never off French television without poisonous declamations in immaculate French. So much for the brotherhood of Francophonie.

One can imagine Sarko’s mood on the Presidential Airbus on his way to Andrews AFB. Whether this is just an affair of an inept NGO, as Sarko might wish us to believe he believes, it has turned into an affair of hostage-taking. The French public will not tolerate their girls being thrown into a malarial African prison. Sarkozy knows it. Chad knows it.

The children be damned; they are actually practically the least important consideration of all. Were the children from Darfur? How will anyone ever know? Were Zoés people offering these children a worse life? Most people in that part of Africa can only dream of going to France. Perhaps the paperwork was dodgy. I would prefer to cast my own sympathy with the NGO. They knew what they were doing was dangerous. But they may have underestimated the political cynicism of the regime in Chad, not to forget the political cynicism in Paris.

You do not need to be a Lacanian analyst to understand the political toxicity of this for Sarko. This is an affair ripe with symbolism.

What is Sarko going to have to pay to get the French team home? What does Chad want? Guns? Jets? Helicopter gunships? Prime real estate in Neuilly? Cash – obviously.

The swaggering performance of the Africans is an ironic tribute to Sarko’s own default posture but with the whip firmly in the hand of the Africans. This is a media nightmare for the French government. Chad has complete control of the media on their end, they will control the images, hence the French media, and can create any facts they want. This is a very big problem for Sarko, demanding a coolness that one must increasingly doubt he possesses.

Sarko needs to get a grip.


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