AFRICANGLOBE – French President Francois Hollande reacted to being told France is in danger of missing the boat in Africa on Tuesday by challenging the nation’s business leaders to double trade with the continent.
Citing a report that meeting that goal over the next five years would generate 200,000 jobs in France, Hollande told a major conference of French and African business leaders: “That is our objective: France must double its trade with Africa.”
The Socialist leader also announced the creation of a Franco-African growth foundation, which he said would aim to foster business talent and would be up and running by next year.
Hollande’s comments came ahead of a summit meeting with 40 African leaders here on Friday and Saturday, and also against a worrying backdrop for the former colonial power which once had far-reaching economic influence over expanses of Africa.
Although the value of France’s business links with the continent have steadily increased since its retreat from empire in the 1960s, it has seen its share of the market decline as China and other emerging economies have muscled in recently.
In what was seen as a sign of the times, Nigeria’s finance minister raised a laugh at Wednesday’s conference by warning France it was in danger of “missing the boat” in Africa.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said a decade of growth meant Africa no longer had to rely on the former colonial powers as trade and investment partners.
Responding to an address by French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, Okonjo-Iweala said: “Mr Moscovici said in his speech ‘we need Africa’ and this is a very important statement for Africans to digest.”
To titters in the audience, she added: “It is true that Africa has many suitors now. And it is true that our traditional partners like France, whom we will not forget, may have to work a little harder to persuade us to work with them on investments on the continent.”
Economic growth across Africa has exceeded five percent per year for the last 10 years and the expansion has been accompanied by growing economic links between the continent and the likes of China, India and Brazil.
France, a major colonial power in Africa until the 1960s, has suffered in the shifting economic sands, losing market share across the region.
France nevertheless retains significant political influence and is a major player in African security, intervening militarily in Mali earlier this year and preparing for another operation in the Central African Republic.
Moscovici said France needed a new mutually beneficial economic relationship with Africa.
“We have to speak the language of truth: African growth pulls us along, its dynamism supports us and its vitality is stimulating for us,” he said. “We need Africa.”
The Nigerian minister said it was high time French companies started recognising that and appealed to them to take more interest in the process of privatisation in the energy and transport sectors now underway in her country and elsewhere in Africa.
“We need private equity in our infrastructure, we need private capital,” she said.
“This is the time for the French private sector to begin to get in. Those who are not already in, you must start now. Because my word to you is, if you miss the boat now, if you are not in Africa now, let me say it again, if you are not in Africa now, you are missing the opportunity of a lifetime.”
By: Ursula Hyzy