Speak here to be heard there. The France intends to remain a "relevant partner" in Africa despite the "anti-French speeches", said Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna while presenting Tuesday evening before the Senate the country's foreign policy in Africa.
While the population of the African continent, which already has 1.1 billion inhabitants, is expected to double by 2050 according to the United Nations, African youth have launched a challenge to the France: "that of renewing ourselves, of changing our way of doing things," noted the head of French diplomacy, stressing that Paris had heard the message of young people. Two and a half years ago, President Emmanuel Macron had a dialogue with the youth of Africa at a summit in Montpellier.
In recent years, difficult files have piled up on the offices of the Quai d'Orsay: visa crisis with Morocco, tensions with Algeria - which explain why President Tebboune has still not scheduled a visit to France -, break with Mali. The France has the will "to build a new, balanced, reciprocal relationship" with the countries of Africa, "this is how the France will remain a close, relevant partner in this continent called to occupy such a central position in the balances of the world of tomorrow," added the minister.
The minister did not avoid "the headwinds" and in particular "the dissemination of anti-French speeches in some French-speaking African countries". Probably targeting Algeria and Mali, she said that these speeches "are partly linked to the heritage of history, partly to the frustrations of young people, partly also to hostile undertakings, especially from Russia".
The France, second foreign investor on the African continent
Africa is at the heart of international struggles for influence that have redoubled since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Many African countries are dependent on grain imports from Russia and Ukraine for food. Moscow has multiplied in recent years initiatives on the continent, aiming to pose as an alternative to the former colonial powers.
In some areas, it allowed the Wagner paramilitary group to flourish, particularly in the Central African Republic, where the firm appointed one of its own as security adviser to President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, set up a praetorian guard to quell the "rebellion" and captured gold and diamond wealth. It is no coincidence that a Russia-Africa summit is announced on July 26 in St. Petersburg, Putin's city, of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, and now headquarters of the militia, which inaugurated its headquarters there on November 4.
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"Nothing is more wrong, and for a long time" than to think that relations between France and its African partners are self-evident in an "increasingly competitive" world, the minister acknowledged to senators. "With the continent's ever-increasing participation in the global economy, these are markets to consolidate or invest in for our companies," she continued.
The France is the second largest foreign investor on the African continent after China. In fifteen years, the number of subsidiaries of French companies has doubled on the continent, as well as investments, detailed Catherine Colonna.
For his part, the Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu noted that over time, African countries had "decided to diversify their partnerships" and to "put them in competition" including in terms of defense. "This brings the challenge of being more attractive vis-à-vis long-standing partners with whom we are in emotional relations," he explained, also recalling that the African continent is "subject to tensions between authoritarian models and democracies".
Lecornu evokes "emotional relationships"
As for the terrorist threat, it has evolved in ten years: today, "it is more fragmented, more diffuse, more endogenous, more difficult to detect and inform," explained Sébastien Lecornu, stressing that it was therefore necessary to think about new methods of combating terrorism. He also pleaded for "a more transparent approach to the missions" of French bases, and said he wanted to welcome many more cadets or non-commissioned officers in France. The minister will continue discussions with his counterparts to propose a "new training catalogue" to prevent countries from turning to the Russian offer.
"We must work hard," he continued, stressing the need "both to fight terrorism and to honor our word sometimes given by defense agreements" signed decades ago.