To celebrate 50 years of independence, soldiers from France's former African colonies have been invited to take part in the Bastille Day march on Wednesday.
Forces from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad and Togo will march down the Champs-Elysées on France's national day of celebration. French Secretary of Defence Hubert Falco described the invitation as the first stage of "an ongoing homage to African veterans".
All of France's sub-Saharan former colonies that are celebrating their independence this year were invited. Only the Ivory Coast refused. Relations between the two countries have been strained since an internal rebellion against the Ivorian government was launched in September 2002.
“Ulterior motives are still at play when it comes to relationships between France and its former colonies”
Mohamadou Houmfa is a journalist from Yaoundé, Cameroon.
This event is good in that it shows that Cameroon has a good relationship with France. We also invite soldiers from our neighbouring countries for national events as a way of showing that we want to continue working together with them.
What's strange is to have invited so many countries all at the same time. As a local newspaper put it this morning, it's a case of ‘King Sarkozy summoning his minions'. He promised to get rid of Françafrique at the start of his mandate - this shows that he hasn't. Ulterior motives are still at play when it comes to relationships between France and its former colonies.
As a symbolic gesture, however, this is an important event. We have to wipe the slate clean. And for that we're hoping for Sarkozy to say something in his speech which will give recognition to the atrocities of colonialisation. I'm also hoping that this new start will allow us to become more independent in our decision-making, so that we can collaborate with the Chinese, for example, or have our own currency which we will can control ourselves" [Cameroon currently employs the CFA franc, which is used in 14 countries].
“France had no choice but to invite our army”
Ibrahim Diaby works in sales in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
The only armies that really deserve to go to France are those of Benin, Senegal and Mali. They're the only ones who don't dabble in politics.
France had no choice but to invite our army once they'd started inviting others. But our army is not at all representative of our country and is far from the model of a modern African military. We say here that it's full of shrapnel left over from the civil wars of 1993 and 1997. There are more colonels than corporals and recruitment takes place purely by nepotism.
Some of the soldiers going to Paris see this as their big break in France. One of my friend's brothers is taking part in the march and he's convinced that he won't come back. Nothing new there; players from our national sports teams do the same thing when they play abroad."
“By doing this our African presidents are pledging allegiance to France”
Bertrand Kpogo, 31, is an IT programmer from Cotonou, Benin.
I wouldn't say it's an honour, but it's a good thing for our army to march down the Champs-Elysées. By inviting us to celebrate with them, France is demonstrating a desire for continued collaboration with Benin. It also shows that our army is respected abroad and that makes us very happy because we feel the same way. The fact that women soldiers will be part of the march is proof of our military's high standards.
What's saddening is that the event will not be reciprocated. Nicolas Sarkozy is not going to come to Benin on 1 August to celebrate our independence. I have the impression that by doing this our African presidents are pledging allegiance to France and that our relationship with our former ruler remains one of imperialism."