11 January 2014

Africa, the future of France?

The voluminous report (501 pages) of the French Senate’s working group on ‘‘the presence of France in coveted Africa’’ («la présence de la France dans une Afrique convoitée», in French only) made public shortly before the Africa-France summit of December 2013, advocates fundamental changes in the relations between France and Africa. This relation had first been a the long period of cooperation that followed the time of independence, where francophone Africa was the centre of the French system (le «pré carré»). Later, during the first decade of the XXIst century, there was a progressive withdrawal of France from Africa (illustrated by N. Sarkozy’s ‘‘France does not need Africa any more economically’’), probably as prominence was given to Asian markets that appeared more promising and less risky. It seems that France is now willing to reengage in Africa, but based on new principles.

If one refers to the 10 priorities and 70 measures presented in the first part of the report, this re-engagement is based on mutual interest and the will of France to strengthens its economic relations with the ‘‘Africa that takes off’’ (l’«Afrique qui décolle»).

The diagnosis is clear: Africa will be the continent of the XXIst century. With a total population of more than one billion in 2014 (of which half is less than 15 years old), expected to rise to close to 2 billion towards 2050, Africa is a potential giant at the gates of Europe. The future of Europe, and therefore of France, will largely depend on its success or failure. This means that France will have to regain an important place in Africa, in order to influence its development while being placed in the best possible position on a fast developing market. Its economic stability and growth are at stake. The report, well documented, analyses in details various aspects of the situation and perspectives of the African continent, while emphasising its strengths and weaknesses.

According to the report, to regain a strong position in Africa, France will have to dust off its relations with the continent, restructure its cooperation outfit and give an even stronger role to AFD (Agence Française de Development), and state clearly that its objective is to promote its interests on the continent (in particular in terms of sourcing of raw materials), as is being done, for example, by the US, Germany or Japan.

In a first phase, there will be a need to increase support to French companies operating in the most dynamic African countries, promote French expertise in the continent and facilitate studies in France of young Africans. This will allow to ‘‘establish norms, habits and values in the continent that can link France to African countries and facilitate both intellectual and commercial exchanges’’ and to be better placed to compete with corporations from emerging countries in those sectors that are the most promising because of demographic growth, accelerated urbanisation and the expected development of an African middle class. This entails mostly the construction of housing facilities and basic infrastructure (for the supply of electricity and water, sanitation, roads and bridges, and office buildings) as well as economic infrastructure (markets, railway stations, commercial and industrial areas), tourism and telecommunication. Among the norms mentioned in the report, prominence is given to social and environmental norms that should also serve as deterrents to business relocation. It is felt that demonstrating an exemplary behaviour in areas where emerging countries have adopted practices that are increasingly criticised, would contribute to make France a more attractive partner.

The report stresses ‘‘the regrettable error’’ that has been the neglect of social sectors by development partners since the 90s. It acknowledges that the number of poor continues to increase despite the fast growth observed in the continent and that food insecurity remains a major issue. But it makes hardly any visible proposals to address these issues although an opinion poll conducted late 2012 showed that the French people thought that combat against poverty and hunger should be the first priorities of French aid. [read in French only].

From the point of view of food and agriculture, the report advocates for the adoption of the green revolution in Africa and an intensive chemical inputs-based agriculture [read our critique of this approach]. It supports the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition which, according to many observers will imply excluding the mass of poor African peasant farmers from agricultural development. At, we regret this position which will not help to resolve the hunger issue in Africa and which is in evident contradiction with the will to develop in France a more ecological agriculture where family farms have a central role to play. [read more on this, in French only]

Among the principles that will underly future France-Africa relations, the principle that ‘‘guarantees equity and transparency in energy and mining contracts’’ features prominently. The contract between Areva and Niger on the sourcing of uranium for France’s nuclear plants, which is currently being re-negotiated and the negotiation process of which is already being strongly criticised by public opinion in Niger and some NGOs, will be a test that will serve to check whether this new approach can be felt in reality immediately.

Read also:

  1. -The report « La présence de la France dans une Afrique convoitée » (in French only)

  2. -Seven principles for ending hunger sustainably


Last update:    January 2014

For your comments and reactions: