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New Africa-France Summit: a meeting focused on youth and entrepreneurship “to reinvent the Africa-France relationship together”

The “New Africa-France Summit” to be organized in Montpellier on October 8 will bring together civil society actors in Africa and France, without Heads of State. The objective is to lay the groundwork for a new relationship between the continent and France. In a context of heightened tensions on both sides. Analysis.

By Dounia Ben Mohamed

It is in a context of heightened anti-French sentiment in French-speaking Africa and persistent divisions over migration issues in France that the 28th Africa-France Summit, named for the occasion the New Africa-France Summit, will be held on October 8 in Montpellier, France. New, because instead of the annual meeting that used to bring together heads of state from the continent’s French-speaking sphere, this time it is civil society alone that will be invited to the event organized by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. More exactly, a hundred young entrepreneurs, artists, researchers, athletes, students and prominent figures from Africa and France. A major first that is part of the continuity of the roadmap of the French president, announced in his famous speech in Ouagadougou- held on November 27, 2017- and which puts civil society at the forefront to “reinvent France-Africa relations”, as part of an open, uninhibited, and rebalanced relationship. 

Four years after the Ouagadougou speech, a mixed record

“I am from a generation that does not come and tell Africa what to do or what the rule of law entails, but rather one that encourages young African women and men who want to shoulder their responsibilities, who want to do what they can to see the winds of freedom and empowerment blow as you have done here,” Emmanuel Macron told students of the University of Ouagadougou. “Africa is where the world will be transformed. If we fail to meet these challenges together, Africa will sink into obscurity. This could happen. It will regress, it will decline. But along with it, Europe will have the same hardships because it will enter into a long period of migration, poverty, and routes of necessity and of even greater pain than today. However, if we manage to join forces to meet these challenges, if we are able to rise up and successfully face this great time of change we are living, then this is where a portion of global growth will be generated,” concluded the French head of state. 

Emmanuel Macron, speech in Ouagadougou- held on November 27-DR

Four years after this memorable speech, the record is mixed: while the situation is tense in Francophone Africa – stalemate in the Sahel with France’s disengagement in Mali; the death of historical ally Idriss Déby in Chad; the fall of Alpha Condé and military transition in Guinea; heated debates around the replacement of the CFA franc by the Eco, which would remain under the aegis of the Bank of France -, new horizons are opening up for France on the continent. The former colonial power has begun the process of restitution of looted works of art to Africa, has made progress on the issue of memory with a successful return to Rwanda, and has increased its presence in Kenya and the rest of the sub-region. Furthermore, France has shown itself to be a major partner of the continent during and after the COVID-19 pandemic with, in particular, a strong financial commitment (1.2 billion euros mobilized by AFD through the “COVID-19 – Health in Common” initiative), the organization of an ambitious summit on debt in Paris, devoted to new financing mechanisms; and finally, a few months before the end of Emmanuel Macron’s first term in office, this “New Africa-France Summit.”

«Without Heads of State and institutions, it will be exclusively devoted to Africa’s and France’s young people, who are every day building the future of France and Africa’s relationship »

Through this “radically different” format, this Africa-France summit ” will be exclusively devoted to Africa’s and France’s young people, who are every day building the future of France and Africa’s relationship, » say the organizers. Before recalling the ambition of this new formula, ” to envisage together opportunities and the first tangible actions to renew relationship between [France] and the African continent.” With a focus on five major themes: citizen engagement, entrepreneurship and innovation, higher education and research, culture and sport, the meeting will feature work sessions, “in order to build genuine collective momentum up until the Summit and beyond,” the organization says on its website.

In fact, the meetings are already ongoing, since the Africa-France Dialogues, led by Achille Mbembe, a philosopher, political scientist and historian, and a committee of recognized, independent African figures began in early 2021 in around 10 African countries (Angola, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tunisia) as well as in France. The expected strong presence of young entrepreneurs from the continent also confirms the rather economic leaning of this new relationship, driven by shared interests and a willingness to respond, together, to common challenges. 

« New relations rid from remnants of Françafrique, fitting into this new Africa-France era»

It remains to be seen whether this new formula for the Africa-France summit proposed by the Elysée Palace will live up to its ambitions, namely to lay the foundations for new relations, rid from the remnants of Françafrique and more open, more economic, and resolutely turned towards the future. In light of recent events – the stalemate in the Sahel and the controversial debates on immigration during the pre-presidential campaign in France – there is a considerable risk that the Summit will be diverted from the issues at stake and fail to achieve its original objective. 

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