New African frontier
As I find myself in Dakar, where, on France and President Sarkozy’s behalf, I have come to pay tribute to the brilliant success of Senegalese democracy, I am thinking about the future of the whole of Africa. I am profoundly convinced that the African continent will be the emerging power of the 21st century.
I am certainly not underestimating the tremendous challenges it has to take up: poverty, war – both civil and external –, often uncontrolled population growth, the consequences of global warming, major pandemics, the impossible management of giant megalopolises such as Cairo and Lagos, the weak rule of law, corruption eating away at the economy and society… The list goes on.
And yet, how many reasons there are to be hopeful!
Beyond the crises, African economies have been experiencing uninterrupted, sustained growth for more than 10 years. The emergence of an increasingly better educated middle class forms the bedrock of an expansion which looks set to last. There is no example in history of a population growing and, at the same time, economic activity falling. Yet in 2050, it is thought that a quarter of mankind will be African. Its huge number of young people will be the greatest asset of an Africa which, moreover, has considerable natural resources in its soil. For businesses, Africa is already the geographical area where there is one of the highest returns on investment. With continental and regional integration, it has taken control of its destiny. In short, it is now our new frontier, so bound up are our economic and strategic interests and so close are our cultural and human affinities.
On all my visits to the continent, I’ve sensed a profound respect for our country, great gratitude for its recent commitments, and, more generally, an incredible “demand for France”.
Admittedly, some French commentators still give us the same old story about suspicions over our action in Africa, and the refrain about “Françafrique” (1). Let’s try and get out of outdated mindsets and look at what’s actually happening today. Our diplomacy is implementing a new policy in Africa whose main purpose is very clear: to respond to the expectations of our African partners, whilst remaining true to our values and consistent with our interests.
More than anything else, Africans want peace. In this area, France has shouldered all her responsibilities: training the African soldiers fighting in Somalia in the African Union force, supporting the UN’s operations, 80% of which are conducted on the African continent, a pioneering role in the fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa, galvanizing the European Union to support the countries of the Sahel in their battle against AQIM [al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb]… As the intervention in Côte d’Ivoire showed, France’s support is provided with total transparency, in close consultation with the African organizations and in strict compliance with international mandates. France is convinced that Africa itself must take charge of its own stability. That’s why we unreservedly support continental and regional integration. That’s why we’ve revised all our defence agreements, which dated back to the 1960s. They’ve been submitted for ratification to our parliament and are therefore fully in the public domain. They provide for our forces, which have been reorganized, training the regional units instigated by the African Union.
Africans, too, want the home of human rights to support the democratic processes under way on the continent, because a strong wind of freedom is blowing there. We’re proud to say that, for five years, we’ve been helping people freely express their sovereign will: in South Sudan, now independent after years of war; in Côte d’Ivoire, where – by ensuring, along with the African Union and the United Nations, that universal suffrage prevailed – we put an end to a long civil war; in Guinea, where half a century of dictatorship was swept away in the ballot boxes; in Senegal, where the former and new presidents’ respective democratic traditions and spirit of responsibility enabled tensions linked to a candidature hard to understand to be overcome in exemplary fashion; and in Mali, where – despite the current tensions – every effort is being made to ensure the elections are held and democracy safeguarded.
Admittedly, in many states a lot of progress has yet to be made. But France has no hesitation in saying democracy and good governance are non-negotiable. Development everywhere comes about through fighting corruption and reducing inequalities. They are essential preconditions for civil harmony and economic attractiveness.
And Africans want France to support them, as a partner, along the road to development, to tackle the challenges of rampant urbanization, mass education, the scarcity of drinking water, and extreme climatic phenomena. Here, too, France has nothing to be ashamed of: our Official Development Assistance to Africa has grown by 25% since 2007. France devotes more than half her development assistance to Africa. She spearheaded the international mobilization in the face of the food crises in Somalia and the Sahel. In line with the commitments made by President Sarkozy at the African Union summit last year, France has put food security, development financing and infrastructure financing at the heart of the G20’s decisions.
Sustainable development in Africa is the key plank of our cooperation strategy. In view of this, we’re taking care not to increase nations’ indebtedness, while allowing them to retain control of their soil, protect the environment and encourage growth that creates many local jobs. I suggest our African friends choose all their partners with these criteria in mind, in order to avoid disappointment in future.
What do Africans ultimately want? They want Africa’s voice to be heard in the concert of nations and they want people to stop talking on their behalf. For the past five years, French diplomacy has made this a principle of its action. Never have we consulted so much with the African regional organizations. President Sarkozy and I have both gone to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa and the ECOWAS headquarters in Abuja. Under her presidency, France gave Africa its full place in [the work of] the G8 and G20. She has worked in close liaison with the African members of the Security Council, which she is also asking to be thoroughly reformed so that the African continent can be better represented on it.
Overall, the message I’ve taken away from my contacts with our African partners is that they’re committed to forging closer ties of friendship and cooperation with France. That’s true of our French-speaking friends, who share with us the treasure of a common language. But it’s also true in the English-, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, where people are flocking to learn French in our alliances and institutes. There are thousands of African students in France: they are Africa’s future and life-long friends of France. We must continue to give them a friendly welcome. The wealth of our human ties with Africa provides an irreplaceable opportunity.
Responding to Africa’s expectations also means being useful to France, so united are our continents’ destinies, be it in the field of economic growth, sustainable development, population movement or linguistic, cultural and human ties. Yes, Africa provides an opportunity for France too./.
(1) France’s former, somewhat proprietorial Africa policy often based on personal relationships.