African leaders have welcomed a fresh start in their relations with France and Europe that goes well beyond the current migrant crisis after French president Emmanuel Macron vowed to launch a new partnership with the continent.
Africa should be treated as a partner and not as a “threatening neighbour”, Macron said in a recent foreign policy speech at Sorbonne University. He also suggested introducing a European financial transaction tax to finance development policies in Africa.
The new warmth between France and Africa was praised by the finance minister of Burkina Faso, Rosine Sori-Coulibaly. “When you look at international trade and investment, we must go beyond exporting commodities and explore our own national resources to transform our local capacity and creating local added value,” she told GlobalMarkets. “When you see this massive flow of youth towards the European continent, it is because there is no hope at home. We must give hope to our youth,” she said.
Several French thinktanks have thrown their weight behind Macron’s push to boost ties with Africa after European investors have been sidelined by China recently. “He has the will to re-establish strong links between the two continents and the Mediterranean area. This provides a vision which may help stop the decline of France’s position in the region,” said Jean Louis Guigou, president of Ipemed, a research centre.
Indeed, France’s share of imports in sub-Saharan Africa has declined from 10% to 4% in 15 years, while China’s share has increased to 22%, according to Côte d’Ivoire vice president Daniel Kablan Duncan. The country will host a summit between the European Union and Africa next month in Abidjan. Following Brexit, France and Germany are now expected to take the lead in strengthening ties between both continents.
“We will have a very strong alliance between Macron and Merkel to work actively in Africa,” said Guigou. “Merkel has already called for a Marshall plan for Africa at the G20. This is motivated by security reasons, but also to find new growth engines. This is huge. They don’t only want to go to Africa to export but also to create jobs,” he said.
“The Germans have become more interested than ever in Africa. Following Brexit, the Franco-German couple will be the key to increasing investment in Africa,” said Jean-Michel Huet, from the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, a Paris-based thinktank that has called for a “re-start” of France relations with Africa.
Morocco is one country that has already attracted investment from the two main French car manufacturers, Renault and PSA. The latter has recently unveiled a €550m euro plan to invest in a plant in Kenitra. But much more will be needed to lift industrialisation in sub-Saharan Africa.