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Africa

France scrambles for ‘New Deal’ with Africa at Paris conference

media Senegal's President Macky Sall, France's François Hollande, Gabonese Ali Bongo and Côte d'Ivoire Alassane Ouattara at the Paris conference Reuters/Ian Langsdon/Pool

All eyes were firmly on Africa at the France-Africa forum, which ended on Friday. Business leaders and heads of state gathered in Paris to thrash out new ways of sharing the continent’s staggering growth - this time without the shady connections that have long shaped bilateral relations in the past, they said.

“Africa is our future,” a jetlagged French President belted out at the close of the first round of discussions at the France-Africa forum. “It’s our future because it is the continent with the fastest economic growth in recent years.”

The IMF expects the sub-Saharan region’s economy to grow by 4.9 per cent in 2015, above the global projected growth of 3.5 per cent. And last year, its growth went up by 5.8 per cent.

It was thus no surprise that Hollande made a pitstop to the event between flights from Kiev to Moscow. “I’ve proved by being here, that Paris is the capital of the world,” Hollande quipped.

By inviting African leaders from Senegal, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria to the French fiunance ministry, Hollande proved France wants Africa to be the centre of its world.

The continent’s rapid growth is largely linked to a fast-growing population, with 70 per cent of Africans now under the age of 35. But many are unskilled and youth unemployment continues to be a scourge on an otherwise impressive record.

“If you don’t give young people something to do, they will find something else to occupy themselves with and it won’t necessarily be pleasant,” said Chris Kirubi, director of Kenyan-based Centum Investment Group.

During one of several round table discussions, Kirubi flagged up the rise of armed groups such as Boko Haram and the growing number of boat-people fleeing Africa for Europe as signs that Africa’s youth needs to be harnessed.

Participants at the forum thus welcomed the announcement of a new Africa-France foundation, geared towards providing skilled training for young African adults.

Spearheaded by Franco-Beninese economist Lionel Zinsou, with the support of the French government, the foundation will have a sister organisation in every country across the continent to offer Africa’s youth better business opportunities and the necessary funding.

The foundation itself has a bankroll of three million euros from the French government but will rely on contributions from other governments and businesses thereafter.

“We are a professional network, we aim to put young people in touch with French businesses so they can work together,” Lionel Zinsou told RFI.

Asked whether France was truly engaging in a win-win partnership with its former colonies, Zinsou replied: “Africa needs forces from everybody…. France, China, Latin America, everyone that can bring experience and knowledge.”

Africa’s growth he says is not enough on its own, he argues.

“Growth at five per cent only provides jobs for 10 million, so you have a gap of 10 million to fill. If we don’t go from five to seven per cent we will not put our youth in the proper jobs, that’s what Africa has to gain.”

And the past? Is the past, Zinsou insists. For French companies, Africa is no longer an inferior but a partner.
 

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