France is due to hold a summit for selected African heads of state to spur economic growth in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts differ on the guest list and conference expectations citing reality on the ground.
On May 18, 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron will play host to several African leaders. Amongst them is the chairperson of the African Union Commission and the head of the African Development Bank. Also expected to be in attendance will be some European leaders, G7, G20, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other financial institutions.
COVID-19 is the topic of the moment, but when it comes to French-Africa relations, the waters are easily muddled by other issues such as colonial legacies, FrancAfrique, aid, and the use of the Franc CFA currency. There is already contention regarding the criteria used for inviting attendees to the summit. Roland Marchal, a leading expert on French African relations at the University Science Po in Paris, says the criteria by which Macron selected the participants was not made public.
“President Macron has sent invitations to the most significant African economies and certainly those who are part of la Francophonie,” Marchal told DW. “It will be wrong to assume that the aim of France is only to gather its clients, members of La Francophonie — its traditional clients on the continent.”
Reaching out beyond la Francophonie
According to Marchal, Macron, like his predecessors, Francois Holland and Nicholas Sarkozy, has been trying to extend friendship ties to countries that France did not colonize — such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and, South Africa. Observers view them as the most emerging countries on the continent.
“There is the question of the former colonies behind it,” French lawmaker Sebastien Nadot said. “Countries with ongoing disputes with France will not be present — otherwise, it would be perceived as a provocation for the diaspora in France. For example, Sassou Nguesso of Congo Brazzaville, will not be there,” Nadot told DW.
Need for optimism?
The summit’s primary goal is to ‘give a big boost’ to countries hit by COVID-19. To this end, some Africans think it is an excellent prospect for the continent.
“Of course, it is an opportunity for Africa because right now, the whole world, especially Africa, is on edge, Albert Rudatsimburwa, a Great lakes analyst from Rwanda, said. “Coming to a meeting where multilateral organizations which are financing the COVID vaccines will be present is an opportunity to have a discussion,” Rudatsimburwa told DW.
For Cameroonian analyst Bergeline Ndoumou, there are more pressing issues affecting the continent, which the current summit does not address. “It is just another useless gathering, a waste of time and resources which is more beneficial to France than Africa,” Ndoumou told DW.
“They have been holding countless summits, but how have those summits benefited Africa? Do we have potable water? Good schools or medical facilities? How have they [summits] impacted governance in our various African countries? We still have bad leaders,” Ndoumou said, adding that such gatherings are a way for France to remind these so-called leaders that they are still a colony.
“It is just a ploy for Macron to solidify his grip on the African continent.”
‘It is about economics and politics, not COVID’
There is no clear indication as to whether the summit will be discussing some of the broad political, social, and governance issues raised by Ndoumou.
“On the question of COVID-19, I am not sure there will be any significant discussions on that in Paris. I understand the World Health Organisation (WHO) will not be present. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be there but not WHO. It is obvious COVID is not the priority,” French parliamentarian Nadot said.
Many commentators have highlighted that the new scramble for Africa is well underway. According to Nadot, this summit is about the flexing of muscles by the world powers.
‘Glimmer of hope’
“Presently, France doesn’t have sufficient financial power to assist African states,” Marchal said, pointing out the need for France to rely on other Western powers. “Also, we will use this opportunity to look into African states that owe huge debts to China. Countries such as Zambia and Djibouti are in trouble. Kenya will be in trouble soon. So, we are trying to adjust African countries’ trade deficit with China,” Marchal added.
On the contrary, Nadot accuses France of being pretentious by seeking to solve Africa’s problems while failing to tackle its own.
He adds that there could be a glimmer of hope for Africans, especially regarding debt cancellation and the question of the Franc CFA currency. “But African leaders have to unanimously organize their countries to find an alternative currency they can use. If they are waiting for a solution from France or Europe, it will be a solution from outside and not clearly for only the interest of the countries of Africa.”