The challenges for French diplomacy in Africa
Christophe Bigot, Africa and Indian Ocean Director at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, explains the challenges for French diplomacy in Africa.
France and Africa’s ties are close and multidimensional. They are rooted in our geographical proximity, long history and intense human interactions and exchanges.
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, France’s present and future are closely linked to those of Africa. To a great extent, African countries’ prosperity and security determine our own for many reasons:
- 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 the Sahel;
- Africa continues to experience very strong economic growth, which is expected to continue into the decades ahead, despite being truly heterogeneous and the impact of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Its growing prosperity and vitality generate new opportunities for our companies. France is one of the continent’s main economic partners and its number-two trading partner in Europe. In addition to trade, French companies contribute to this growth through their investments and the creation of added value in Africa. Based on these strong synergies, our mutually productive economic relations with African countries are expected to grow stronger;
- Major global issues, from climate change to migration management, can only be solved with strong African engagement. They will also be impacted by the exceptional demographic growth expected 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 asset 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 made the choice to develop strong relations with sub-Saharan African States. We are represented by 42 embassies (for 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 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 broke new ground in all areas, but especially in terms of France’s – and through France, Europe’s – perception of Africa and our African partners. That day, President Macron launched a series of initiatives for African youth in all fields, including mobility, education and higher education, support for SMEs and very small enterprises, start-ups and economic partnerships, culture and the Francophonie, development assistance, health and sport, in order to help prepare the future of Africa, in cooperation with Europe.
In a little more than three years, human exchanges between France and Africa have continuously grown richer:
- An increase in volunteer programmes in Africa, in government administrations and businesses;
- An increase in visas issued, both “talent passports” and study visas;
- Increased support to businesses with the Choose Africa and Digital Africa programmes backed by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and to entrepreneurs with MEETAfrica 2.
Culture and the French language were not left out, with the Act of 24 December 2020 on returns to Benin and Senegal, leading the way for a new heritage and museum cooperation policy with Africa, the launch of the 2020 Africa Season and support for the International Organisation of the Francophonie, especially through the launch of the “Dictionnaire des Francophones” (digital dictionary for French-speakers) and the opening of the Maison des Etudiants de la Francophonie at the Cité Internationale Universitaire in Paris.
Development assistance has increased since 2017 and France dedicated more than €12 billion in 2020, equivalent to 0.53% of its national wealth, making it the fifth-largest donor of aid in the world. It should reach the goal set by the President of the Republic, which was to dedicate 0.55% of French GDP to development assistance by 2022.
Within France, Africa plays a central role with the organization of the Africa2020 season, postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic; the Summit on the Financing of African Economies on 17 and 18 May 2021; and the New Africa France Summit in July 2021 in Montpellier. This summit will focus on young people and civil society in Africa and France and the diasporas. It will address all topics which are today essential for young people and a focus of our relationship with the African continent, in particular climate change, mobility, culture and Francophonie, gender equality and development.
Updated: May 2021