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French press review 11 May 2015

Text by: William Niba
5 min

Can the smiling face of South Africa's "Obama" Mmusi Maimane draw blacks to the country's former "white" Democratic Alliance opposition party? Francois Hollande pays the first-ever visit to Cuba by a French leader, a million-dollar offer for Monica Lewinsky's blue White House dress, and a new slavery remembrance centre in the French West Indies is not enough to drown out tears of pain and guilt over shameful trade.


President Francois Hollande's inauguration of a slave trade memorial in Pointe-à-Pitre, capital of the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe, is the day's big story.

La Croix underlines that the centre conceived by local leaders was subsidised by the French state in recognition of her role in the perpetration of shameful trade. According to the Catholic daily even though slavery was officially abolished in 1848, the battle for human dignity is far from over due to the painful memories and controversies linked to this episode of history.

L’Humanité welcomes the construction of the centre, originally planned for a venue in central Paris but allegedly shelved under former President Nicolas Sarkozy out of his avowed hatred of “repentance”. The Communist party newspaper argues that far from stifling the “slavery debate” the exhibition and research centre aspires to promote it. For L’Humanité, it would be perfect if the issues of forgiveness and reparations are finally resolved.

Le Parisien has a profile of Mmussi Maimane, the 34-year-old black elected leader of South Africa’s erstwhile white opposition party at a congress in Port Elizabeth on Sunday. The paper presents the Johannesburg-based Evangelist pastor who rose to become the Democratic Alliance’s chief whip in parliament as the "Barack Obama of Soweto" by the strength of his editorial skills.

Le Parisien underlines the party’s moves to consolidate on gains made during South Africa’s last elections in which the DA scored 22 per cent of the ballots cast despite the fact that whites make up just 8 per cent of South Africa’s population.

It published excerpts from an editorial published by Sunday Times. The DA, according to the weekly, counts on Maimane’s smiling face to attract new voters, but according to the journal, Maimane will have to be more than just a smiling face to woe new members from the townships while making sure that whites gathered by his predecessor Helen Zille will not run away at this moment of growing racial tensions in the country.

Libération keeps a close eye on the worsening crisis in Burundi marked by a police and military crackdown on protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial bid for a third term. The paper reports that the situation in Bujumbura worsened over the weekend after another man was shot dead by security forces ordered to remove barricades erected in some city neighbourhoods. Libé regrets the army’s decision to side with the government warning that their new position is interpreted by the opposition as tantamount to a declaration of war.

The papers analyse the maiden visit to Cuba of French President Francois Hollande. According to Libération, Hollande flies to Havana at a time when the country is keen on opening up to foreign investors. The paper expects political and economic liberties to be on the menu of the visit.

Amnesty International’s campaign chief in the Caribbeans, Robin Guittard, says he expects more of a tactical change rather than any substantial progress in democratisation. A renowned Cuban writer summarises the mindset of Cubans as they await the warming of relations with the West. “Our island”, he says, “will have to see itself as a young woman with no food to eat, dreaming of wearing Channel dresses”.

For the Communist party daily, l’Humanité, Francois Hollande’s trip to Cuba is the clearest sign that Havana is scoring points.

Hollande is the first French leader to visit the island since its independence in 1898, writes Le Figaro. The conservative publication underlines that France is determined to benefit from the opening of Cuba’s economy having voted side-by-side with Cuba at the UN for the lifting of sanctions against the island nation since 1991.

Le Figaro also comments about the warm encounter at the Vatican on Sunday between Cuban leader Raul Castro and Pope Francis. Castro is quoted as having travelled to Rome to “heartily thank the Pope” for the mediation that delivered the historic rapprochement with the US.

Le Figaro runs excerpts from Castro’s remarks after the papal audience in which he speaks about the emotional meeting and his decision to attend all the Pope’s masses when he visits Cuba in September. According to Le Figaro, Castro was in such high spirits after the audience that he threatened to return to the Catholic Church and to start praying again if the Pope continues leading like he is.

Le Parisien gasps for breath at the incredible offer made to former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. It reports that Las Vegas-based Erotic Heritage Museum has promised her one million dollars if she is ready to do away with her famous blue dress which bore the semen of ex-US President Bill Clinton following their sexual relationship in the White House between 1995 and 2007.

According to the Parisian newspaper, Lewinsky, now aged 41, has not responded to the offer made to her in February after her column in Vanity Fair in which she said it was high time to "burn the beret and bury the blue dress" behind the scandal.

Le Parisien says the erotic museum was looking to use the dress as the focus of an exhibition on private relationships of people in power and the dynamics of gender and politics. The paper reports that the exhibit is already underway with intimate wears belonging to Jennifer Flowers on display. Flowers, Le Parisian explains, is the actress “with less ambitious ambitions” who claimed to have had a relationship with Clinton.

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