It may be several decades since the last splash of red slipped off the map, but for the French there will always be a part of Africa that is for ever theirs. Even if it’s fictional. This year, Babar the Elephant celebrates his 75th anniversary and the French are treating him as the royalty he is. Their post office has printed a commemorative birthday stamp of the green-suited pachyderm, while the ministry of the environment is handing out Babar packs promoting green issues to drivers on the Autoroute de Sud.
Quite what Babar knows about the environment is anyone’s guess, as his only recognisable expertise is in dictatorship. In the 75 years that Jean de Brunhoff’s creation has been on the Celesteville throne, Babar has shown no inclination to relax the iron tusk in his velvet glove. Having returned from Paris to the African jungle in 1931, he promptly built a city modelled on western architecture and forced all his subjects to wear western dress. Any notions of regime change are banished firmly from the page as Babar has never even bothered to go through the charade of a rigged democratic election.
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