French diplomacy in Africa: Global issues

Rémi Maréchaux, Africa and Indian Ocean Director at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, explains the challenges for French diplomacy in Africa

On account of their geographical proximity, their long history and intense human interactions and exchanges, France and Africa’s ties are close and multidimensional.

Our relationship reflects the strength of human connections. As our nearest neighbour, Africa has become part of our identity through a common history and African diasporas in France. While many of our citizens’ roots are in Africa, more than 150,000 French people are living in sub-Saharan Africa (and nearly 500,000 on the continent overall). France is also part of the African region with its two departments in the Indian Ocean, Réunion and Mayotte, where over one million French people live.

In many respects, our present and future are closely linked to Africa’s. To a great extent, African countries’ prosperity and security determine our own for many reasons:

  • Since France and Africa share security and counter-terrorism challenges, it stands to reason that we would extend our efforts and vigilance to African countries. Peace and security in Africa also determine our stability. That is why France is active in Sahel;
  • Despite being truly heterogeneous, Africa is currently experiencing very strong economic growth, which is expected to continue into the decades ahead. Africa’s growing prosperity and vitality generate new opportunities for our companies as France is one of the continent’s main economic partners and its number-two trading partner in Europe. Our companies should be able to directly contribute to this growth through their investments and the creation of added value in Africa. Given our strong potential for synergy, our mutually productive economic relations with African countries need to be enhanced;
  • Emerging global problems, from climate change to migration management, can only be solved with strong African engagement. They will also be impacted by the exceptional demographic growth to be seen in Africa in the 21st century. Its population is expected to increase from 1.2 billion today to 2.5 billion in 2050 amid intense urbanization;
  • The future of the French language and Francophonie principally lies in Africans’ hands and the rapid spread of our language will be a challenge and advantage to be addressed with them;
  • Like us, African countries are committed to defending multilateralism and their interests are aligned with ours when it comes to promoting better global governance.

Ever since African countries declared their independence, France has made the choice to develop strong relations with sub-Saharan African States. We are represented by 42 embassies in 49 sub-Saharan African States, which are at the helm of a dense and diversified public network in the areas of education, culture, science and the economy (cultural institutes and Alliance Française branches, French lycées, Agence Française de Développement, research institutes, etc.).

France has legitimate interests in Africa that it would like to promote through a partner-based approach founded on transparency and reciprocity.

That is the focus of the speech President Macron gave on 28 November 2017 at University Ouaga I Pr Joseph Ki-Zerbo in Ouagadougou. He set out a series of detailed commitments for forging a new relationship and a new outlook for France and Africa.

The Ouagadougou speech is innovative. African countries are our partners. President Macron explained a series of commitments to African youth, regarding the education of girls, entrepreneurship and mobility. In general, he gives priority to jobs, which first of all depend on investment in the private sector and innovation. The challenge is to help young people to determine their own future on their continent.

He confirms a substantial rise in our official development assistance as part of a solidarity-based policy to invest in a common future. Lastly, he introduces a change in approach and method, not only regarding the issue of cultural goods but also the growing role that African diasporas should have in this relationship.

This five-year programme will be interspersed with important events including a Season of African Cultures in France (Africa 2020), for which N’Gone Fall was appointed General Commissioner, and the 2020 Africa-France Summit with the theme of sustainable development. The G7 under the French Presidency in 2019 will put forward the idea of a partnership with Africa inviting several African countries to participate in work to fight inequalities.

Updated: February 2019