France-Africa relations have always been fraught with challenges. Evaluating whether the current relations are a win-win partnership requires an all-round discussion, touching on politics, economics, business and sociology. These issues are complex and greatly intertwined.
By Veronica Kariuki, President of the Kenya France Business club
Interactions between France and Africa have mostly been with Francophone Africa,These have been marred with controversies due to colonial history and general impression that France, the ancient coloniser, is ever-present in local politics and still maintains a grip of soft power over its colonies.
An example is the case of the currency used in Francophone Africa, the French CFA, commonly seen as a colonial power symbol as it is manufactured in France, pegged to the Euro, and whose reserves are controlled by the Banque de France on this issue, the debate is more of a sovereignty one, with protagonists championing for adoption of local currencies (either individual currencies or one common to CEDEAO) and the dissociation of manufacture and control by France. From an economic point of view, the pegging of the French CFA to the Euro is advantageous. Though it is entirely possible for the peg to be assosiated to the dollar or a basket of currencies.
One other argument is that France, like other colonial powers, takes part in the commercial pillage of ressources from African countries. This is in the form of winning oil extraction contracts under dubious means mostly including help from corrupt African officials. This is followed by transforming them overseas and selling them to their countries of origin at higher prices (typically Oil).
Despite the historical tensions, there are benefits to the relations between France and African countries. France is an active Development Aid contributor, through the Agence France de Développement and Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) do help recipient countries bolster economic growth. Also, France does have a number of military interventions in Sub Saharan Africa, where it seeks to help local governments fight terrorist cells such as Boko Haram. These interventions do tend to be costly for France but have a direct benefit to local populations. France could seek to explore ways and means to improve the benefits that the communities derive from these resources.
« The Africa France relationship needs to be a molded along a win-win partnership »
With the global digital evolution, and the rapidly growing influence of the Chinese on the continent, France has an incentive to review its policies and collaboration with African countries. Mr Kiprono Kittony, The President of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce of Kenya suggests that « Africa is experiencing a new era of development: where entrepreneurs are leveraging digital trade to empower entire communities, regions and national infrastructures. Policy makers must catch up with this revolution ».
France continually seeks to expand its relation beyond North Africa and Subsaharan Francophone African countries. Over the last decade or so, there has been a noted drive for French multinationals to set up shop in Anglophone countries. A recent example is Carrefour’s installation in Nairobi.
The Africa France relationship needs to be a molded along a win-win partnership. Africa needs to be considered as a partner for development for a mutually benefitting relationship to exist :
France is home to some of the world leading companies in technologies in different fields: it would be fair to envisage transfer of knowledge and capacity building: Local investment regulations should include incentives for foreign companies with local subsidiaries to engage in knowledge transfer (to the extent possible) so as to equip the youth and help in reducing unemployment.
In as much as this would be a complex strategy to put in place, considering the eventual brain drain from Africa and the more complex issues of clandestine immigration and travel logistics a scenario where companies or government agencies establish agreements that allow for graduates to have internships or work exchange programmes is a scenario that could mutually benefit France and Africa. Looking at it objectively, France would be contributing to Africa’s acquisition of more experienced and innovative resources, thus encouraging the youth to be self-sufficient in their respective countries. This will lead to a growth in middle class.
There is a need to review the trade relation conventions between states with a view to give more weight to the private sector; African companies could work towards creating subsidiaries and doing business in France. France can assist by reducing red tape procedures like registration, corporate tax laws, work permit restrictions, and industry-level authorization procedures and this would encourage the African private sector to venture into France)