By Paul Ejime*
On Tuesday, 18th May, about a score of African leaders will gather in Paris with several of their European counterparts and a dozen chief executives of international organizations for a Summit on the Financing of African economies and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The aim of the summit, according to its convener, French President Emmanuel Macron, is to mobilize financial resources to revive the economy of African countries, which cumulatively account for some 130,000 Covid-19 deaths from the more than 3.3 million deaths and 162 million cases recorded worldwide by 16th May 2021.
From these figures, Africa is not worse off, but there is the fear that given its weak and poorly-resourced health systems, the situation could worsen. It is also projected that Africa’s GDP could experience its first recession in 25 years in 2021.
The Paris summit which was to have been held in 2020 but for the health pandemic followed the statement by European leaders on 15th April 2020calling for the mobilisation of the international community to address the consequences of the health and economic crisis caused in Africa by the pandemic.
France is therefore proposing to reallocate the International Monetary Fund (IMF’s) Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to Africa as foreign exchange instruments that can be used to finance imports. The US $650 billion SDR that the Bretton Wood’s institution plans to issue in June, including US $34 billion for Africa and US $24 billion for sub-Saharan Africa is considered inadequate, so President Macron is suggesting “a New Deal” to help African countries.
All the signatories to the 15th April 2020 statement have been invited to the summit, as well as 19 African Heads of State, members of the G7 and G20, and leaders of international organisations, including the African Union Commission and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The invitees also include leaders of Angola, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Togo and Tunisia, and on the European side, Italy, Spain and Portugal and the European Union.
Leaders of the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa are expected to join the meeting by videoconference. Equally invited are the United Nations, IMF, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, World Trade Organization, World Bank and several international public banks, with China also expected to be represented.
Given the opaqueness of France’s historical role in Africa, opinion is divided on the true motive for the latest Paris meeting, and the impact similar summits by French leaders have had on Africa.
Economic recovery and COVID-19 might sound persuasive and topical subjects, yet Africa-French relations, usually evoke controversies relating to colonial legacies and imperialism, conditional aid, and the Franc CFA currency, which remains a divisive issue. There is also a moot point over the criteria used for inviting attendees to the summit.
While the list features some members of La Francophonie or France’s “traditional clients” on the continent and some non-Francophone emerging economies, countries that are not on Paris’ good books such as Congo Brazzaville have not been invited.
Some analysts might consider the summit as a good opportunity to discuss Africa’s problems. Still, others feel there are more pressing economic and socio-political governance issues affecting the continent, which require better articulation and strong African inputs and ownership.
Indeed, critics believe the latest summit is more about France and its interests in and gains from Africa. There is the contention that it is a disguised continuation of colonialism and imperialism and an opportunity for French leadership to solidify its grip on Africa.
Africa, with 55 countries and some 1.3 billion people blessed with abundant natural resources, is not zero-poor. But the continent has been impoverished by corruption and bad management by its leaders who conspire with external forces to exploit and stash their stolen wealth in foreign countries.
There are no official figures, but it is estimated that the exploitation and pillage of Africa contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the French Treasury annually. At the same time, the economies of the victim countries continue to bleed amid an unacceptable level of youth unemployment, criminality and deprivation, coupled with socio-political upheavals.
The situation is such that in January 2019, the Italian deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio publicly accused the French of exploiting Africa and fuelling migration from the continent to Europe, especially by youths who have perished in the Mediterranean Sea or across the Sahara Desert in their thousands.
He even called on the European Union to impose sanctions on France for its policies in Africa, adding that France had “never stopped colonising tens of African States.”
While the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tried to douse the diplomatic row between the two European neighbouring countries, his compatriot, the Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, called the French leader “a terrible president.”
There is no doubt that French involvement or interference in Africa, through its former colonies, is overwhelming and opaque, and this raises the question of whether Paris is indeed an African friend or foe?
Paris’ overbearing involvement is partly blamed for the instability in African countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Chad, Senegal, Togo and Gabon, to name but a few.
Under colonial defence pacts, France has military bases in these former colonies. Chad, which effectively remains a Military Territory (Territoire Militaire), for the protection of French interests, hosts the 5,100-strong French Barkhane forces purportedly deployed for the campaign against terrorism and Islamist insurrections in the Sahel, West Central African regions.
But many Chadian citizens have accused France of using the force to further its strategic interests and to prop its ally, the late President Idriss Deby under the guise of fighting terrorism.
President Macron was the only Western leader that attended the State funeral of Deby, who reportedly died from injuries he sustained while fighting rebels on the battlefield. Deby’s son, Lt.-Gen. Mahamat Kaka has since succeeded his father as head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) in Chad.
Following what the Chadian opposition and rebels called an “institutional coup,” the Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, who is also Chairman of the African Union, flew to France, principally, to seek help against rebels in his country. It was during that visit and after talks with the French President Macron that both leaders issued a joint statement, urging the TMC to respect its promise of returning power to civilians within 18 months.
Meanwhile, other foreign powers, including China and Russia have joined in what many commentators now consider a “new scramble for Africa.” But some of the foreign powers are being pretentious by seeking to solve Africa’s problems while failing to tackle their own challenges.
For Africa to avoid a new wave of colonization, its leaders must wake up from their slumber to unanimously organize their countries on the true path of development and progress. Waiting for external solutions to Africa’s problems will be counter-productive and a defeatist strategy.
*Paul Ejime, an Author and former Diplomatic/War Correspondent, is a Consultant on Communications, Media, Elections and International Affairs.