Africa- France relations: let’s do away with clichés

In response to Dr Adebayo’s article ( Business Day, 12 August 2010 )

Dr Adebayo Adekeye’s depiction of France’s relations with Africa published in Business Day, on July 27th, misses a number of points. Let me address only those which are the most blatantly inaccurate.

1) France’s goals in Africa

Mr Adebayo considers that France’s goals are first and foremost driven by an illusory attempt to retain her status as a global power. This is incorrect. France does not shy away from acknowledging that it does have interests in Africa. Avoiding cryptic interpretations of history or ficticious agendas, the reality is that (as President Sarkozy stated in his Cape Town speech, in February 2008): “the security and the prosperity of France and Europe are inextricably linked with the security and prosperity of Africa. Europe and Africa are next-door neighbours, separated by only 14 kilometres at the straits of Gibraltar.”

Based on this straight-forward analysis, the only raisons d’être of French policy are the unity of Africa and the promotion of African Renaissance. The latter will partly determine the advent of a more just world and therefore the stability of Europe. We believe that we share with African states in general, and South Africa in particular, a common interest in better-regulated globalisation. Whether one agrees or disagrees with it, globalisation is now here to stay. And it would be completely unrealistic and dangerous to attempt to manage the affairs of the world without Africa.

2) A new policy is the making

France’s policy towards Africa is predicated on the above mentioned goals and is being articulated along the following lines:

- The pattern of interaction between France and Africa is no longer purely bilateral (let alone the caricatured version contained in Dr Adebayo’article). On both sides, regional and sub-regional actors must fully play their role. The EU and the AU are building a strong and diversified partnership that binds African and European countries together. France fully plays its role in this “region-to-region” partnership.

The partnership that the EU has established with South Africa is an acknowledgment of the importance that Europe attaches to its relations with Africa’s most developed country. Within the EU France has constantly been advocating for that kind of enhanced partnership with Africa.

Issues of peace and security are also being increasingly dealt with in a multilateral forum: the European Development Fund (to which France is the largest contributor) has provided funding for Africa led peace missions. The declaration adopted at the recent Africa-France summit in Nice expresses support for the strengthening of the collective security system being established by the AU and the sub-regional organizations.

- However, it is true that for France to place its relations with Africa on a new footing, the unequal relations that belong to a past must be discarded. This is why bilateral defence agreements signed in the early 60’s between France and several African countries are being renegotiated (as President Sarkozy announced in Cape Town in February 2008) and several have already been signed.

The new agreements will be made public. This is also why France launched a new initiative in February 2008 to support economic growth in Africa and the private sector. And this is also why the African and French private sectors participated, for the first time this year, in the Africa-France summit.

- France’s vision of Africa is not restricted to French-speaking African countries. The recently held Africa-France Summit was attended, among others, by Heads of State of South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Namibia and Malawi, thus bearing testimony that France’s vision of Africa is continental.

This is so because for France’s goals on the continent to be reached, key players will have to be involved : improving Africa’s role in global governance issues, dealing effectively with the challenges of peace and security, addressing pressing development and environmental challenges all require the active participation of African countries and not only those with historical links with France. This is also the reason why France and South Africa have agreed to establish a strategic partnership, an unprecedented step in France’s relation with African countries.

Such a move does not mean that we have forgotten or are ashamed of the legacy of history. The presence of African troops at the military parade on July 14th on the Champs Elysées was a – long overdue - homage to the contribution that African soldiers made to France’s liberation during World War II.

The same applies to the recent decision to align pensions paid to African veterans to those paid to French veterans. Why should we not be true to our common history? These relations have at times been painful. President Sarkozy spoke in Dakar, in 2007, about the crimes that were committed and the mistakes that were made. They must not be forgotten.

But the strength of the ties between France and Africa is not just a part of our past. It is also part of the French identity: nearly 10% of the French population can claim African ancestry. It is also part of the African identity, through the French language, one of the official languages of the African Union.

France is looking towards the future in its relations with Africa, relations that should have as its model our partnership with South Africa: modern, open, equal and effective.

Philippe ORLIANGE

Chargé d’Affaires a.i.

French Embassy

PRETORIA

publie le 26/08/2010

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