By Dr. Fabien Sundjo (Download pdf version)
The African-France Summit and an Overview of its Recommendations Since 1973
France’s earliest profit-making involvement in Africa in the business of buying and transporting slaves started in the 17th century when the local Indian population proved unable to work in plantations in America compared to black Africans. France’s interest in Africa reached its zenith in the 19th and early 20th centuries when France acquired a gigantic African empire. Though several reasons could explain the scramble for Africa by France, we present herein the three most important.
First, the defeat of France in the 1870 Prussian war in which she lost influence and a reduction in her international ego. Second, the anxiety to implement Colbert’s mercantilist philosophy emphasized that any rising industrial power required to have both the source of raw materials and market extension under her control. Third and finally, as Europeans scrambled for Africa, France feared their traditional enemies could annex a remarkable share of the territory. Hence, from the outset, it was not the financial gains that many thoughts motivated France’s involvement in Africa but politics and national ego.
It will only be later that France saw Africa as a cheap source of military manpower that could help balance demographic stagnation in France. This perception will later be reinforced by her experience in the two World wars. In this light, Iliffe (2007) holds that French colonial policy was characterized by the exploitation of rich resources from Africa.
In the midst of all these benefits from colonization in Africa, Charles de Gaulle‘s decision to retain influence in Africa after decolonization in 1960 was driven by the need to persist with these benefits under neo-colonization. According to Abdurrahim (2014), in Africa, France uses a realist foreign policy in which states shape their foreign policies based on their national interests.
To facilitate the implementation of this realist foreign policy, France will design the Franco-African summit that will cement France’s influence in her former colonies to date. Were France’s policies put in place through the Franco-African summits shaped to benefit France solely? This paper aims to present the Franco-African Summit and carry out a stocktake of France’s commitments through recommendations from the Franco-African Summit.
The Franco-African Summit: What is it All About?
One of the main reasons France used to secure a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council after the Second World War was its colonial empire (Touati, 2007). The independence of her colonies could threaten this position. Thus France had to develop a neo-colonial strategy to maintain ties with her former colonies and increase their influence in the world. To strategically maintain her influence on her formal colonies and harness her realist foreign policy, France chooses to increase her ties with formal colonies and other countries by creating the Françafrique.
Severely weakened by the conflicts in Algeria and Indochina and by World War II, France granted independence to the remaining colonies to maintain close ties to avoid other costly colonial wars that might reduce her influence. According to Bovcon (2011), Françafrique in international relations is France’s sphere of influence over former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. Intriguingly, and according to Bovcon (2011), this expression was used for the first time by Côte d’Ivoire, president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, in 1955 to describe his country’s close ties with France.
To increase France’s vision as a global power, President Charles de Gaulle, in collaboration with powerful business networks and the French secret service, established the African cell. At the outset, this cell will be in charge of cooperation accords with formal colonies. The accord will permit France to establish close military, political, cultural, and economic ties with its former African colonies.
This objective was to be attained outside the traditional colonial context as France will now henceforth work together with independent colonies from Africa for mutual benefit. The Franco-African Summit, since its creation in 1973, will therefore be an instrument linking France to her former colonies.
Recommendations From the Franco-African Summits From 1973 to 2000
At the outset of the Franco-African summit, which was just a decade after the independence of the colonies, the main resolutions were to consolidate the influence of France. In this light, in the summit that took place in Paris in 1973 hosted by President Georges Pompidou, the focus was on problems of the Franc Zone, and it offered a new framework for dialogue between France and French-speaking countries.
Intriguingly, no summit took place in 1974 because of the death of Georges Pompidou, and in 1975 it will be decided the venue alternate every year, between France and Africa, and the resolution to increase French aid to African countries was taken. From this date henceforth, most of the resolutions will revolve around Security and development through the creation of an extraordinary fund for the promotion of Africa and the African solidarity fund as postulated in Dakar. The Euro-African relations were examined in Kigali.
The declaration by President Mitterrand in June 1990 at the Franco-African Summit at the La Baule in which he asserted that France was going to henceforth support only countries that made greater democratic progress was a remarkable step in the resolution of the summit. France unilaterally resolved to cancel the development assistance debt and promised to henceforth offer only grants for least developed countries whose per capita GDP was less than $500, and the interest rates were dropped from 10% to 5% for middle-income countries.
It is in the extraordinary Franco-African meeting of 1994 that the CFA franc, whose exchange rate since 1948 had remained unchanged, was officially devalued by 50% in Dakar. This decision was arrived at because of the repeated call from the French Treasury to bail out francophone states from financial bankruptcy. While this devaluation was beneficial for France in terms of the ease of payment to be transferred from French Treasury to the Washington-based financial institutions, it had disastrous social and economic consequences in African countries. It reduced foreign-exchange earnings and general standards of living as well as household income, according to Guy (1995).
Finally, it was during this era that France established formal defense agreements that permitted her to act as guarantor of stability in the region. According to Chafer (2005), from 1960 to 1990, France had intervened military 122 times in Africa.
Recommendations From 2000 to Present
At the beginning of 2000, the relation between France and her former colonies in Africa will suffer from an unprecedented threat which will influence the resolutions in the Franco-African summit. First, the death of some African presidents was considered as the best friends of France as they all facilitated the implementation of France’s vision in Africa. This is the case of Félix Houphouët Boigny from Côte d’Ivoire, Léopold Sédar Senghor from Senegal, Modibo Keita from Mali, and Ahmed Sékou Touré from Guinea who all had senior political offices in Franceand were also members of the French parliaments. Secondly, the adoption of the La Baule doctrine will weaken colonial ties with France. Thirdly, the devastating role of France in the Rwandan genocide in 1994 will undermine its image in Africa. Finally, the relation between France and Africa will be threatened due to her immigration policy towards Africa. All of these have damaged her credibility and put her monopoly of Africa under serious threat.
In order to gain back credibility, the resolution taken at the Franco-African summit will try to preserve France’s interest and that of her formal colonial partners. In this light, in 2003, President Chirac replaced the system of ‘assistance’ with the system of ‘partnership’ in describing the new orientation to be considered at the Franco-African summit. Further, in this new orientation and resolution, France did not want to deal again with Africa by herself as she privileged multilateral over bilateral aid by making use of the United States’ only development body as one of their models. This gave rise to the feeling that Chirac’s focus was really on Africa’s development. In the same light, the 2007 Cannes summit’s focused on “Africa and the world equilibrium” and dueled on the importance of Africa in the world. We can also mention the extract concessions such as debt relief which came up in 2007.
In addition, the 2010 France-Africa summit held in Nice underlined the establishment of a strategic partnership that was based on solidarity, equality, and mutual respect. In this light, France agreed to strengthen Africa’s security system by pledging €300 million between 2010 and 2012 to African states through sub-regional organizations. According to France Diplomatie (2010), France resolved to train 12,000 African troops so as to reinforce African peacekeeping actions during that time. This minimized direct intervention by France troops.
The just ended 2021 summit that took place on the 8th and 9th of October at Montpellier in Paris had as objective to put in place financial resources to African countries to enable them to revive their economy in the midst of the COVID-19 economic recovery was in line with France anxiety to re-establish their influence in Africa.
The distinctive feature of this summit lied in its motto. The motto was that the Africa-France summit must make the living forces of African countries heard. This was the first time since 1973 that no African head of state was invited to the summit. Why does Emmanuel Macron prefer to dialogue with civil societies rather than with his African counterparts?
France aims at shifting its strategy toward Africa by moving from classic bilateral relations with governments to dealing with Africa’s young-led generation and African civil society organizations. According to the French presidency, the new summit approach is meant to allow “the voice of Africa’s youth to be listened to” while leaving behind obsolete methods and networks. This indicates another new wave in the relationship between France and her former colonies.
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