African king-pin dies at 83

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John Lichfield

It would be difficult to believe that Jacques Foccart died a happy man. The policy of deep French engagement in Africa, which he symbolised and operated from the shadows for the last four decades, has never been so threatened as in the week of his death.

Mr Foccart, 83, who died early yesterday, was one of the last survivors of the de Gaulle era. For three presidents, and over 39 years, he ran France's Africa policy, often over the head of prime ministers and foreign ministers. He was, until the last few weeks of his life, one of the main links between France and President Mobutu of Zaire. The fast-approaching collapse of the Mobutu regime, and possibly of Zaire itself, symbolises the defeat of a policy which he created and which the present French government is seeking, rather uncertainly, to replace.

During his periods of service for Presidents de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou, and for Prime Minister and then President Jacques Chirac, Mr Foccart never held a senior formal position, other than, briefly, secretary general to the Presidency for African affairs. But, during these periods, anyFrance- assisting event in Francophone Africa would be attributed to the hidden hand of "La Focque". Occasionally, Mr Foccart emerged from the shadows to deny the unearthly powers attributed to him. "I do not run networks which do not exist with money I don't have from companies which have no being," he said famously in 1982.

Obituary, page 16