French President Emmanuel Macron, this week, is playing host to two summits in Paris, the French capital. One took off Monday, meant to help Sudan into a new democratic era and the second, which took off yesterday, was to provide Africa with critical financing swept away by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari who arrived Paris Sunday would be interested more in the second. The other African leaders who received invitation are the chairperson of the African Union Commission and the head of the African Development Bank. Some European leaders — as well as representatives from the G7, G20, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial institutions — are also attending.
COVID-19 is the topic of the moment — but when it comes to French-Africa relations, the waters are easily muddled by other issues such as colonial legacies, France’s sphere of influence in Africa or Francafrique, international aid, and the CFA franc currency used in eight West African countries. There was already contention regarding invitation to the summit, such as the criteria by which the participants were selected.
However, there are those who think it does not matter who was united and who who wasn’t. For them the summits’ main objective is what is important. The second summit’s primary goal is to “give a big boost” to countries hit by COVID-19. To this end, some Africans think it offers excellent prospects for the continent. “Of course, it is an opportunity for Africa, because right now the whole world, especially Africa, is on edge,” said one analyst. “Coming to a meeting where multilateral organizations which are financing the COVID vaccines will be present is an opportunity to have a discussion.” The Tuesday summit on African economies would try to fill a financing shortfall of almost $300 billion caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both meetings, held in a temporary exhibition centre under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, would be a chance for Macron to show himself as a statesman on Africa whose influence goes beyond the continent’s francophone regions. With some two dozen African heads of state due to attend Tuesday’s summit, it would be one of the biggest in person top level meetings held during the Covid-19 pandemic. It should also see a rare visit to France by Rwandan President Paul Kagame as Paris presses for reconciliation with Kigali after a historical report made clear France’s failings in preventing the 1994 genocide.
Africa is believed to have so far been less badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic than other global regions — with a total of 130,000 dead across the continent — although the human catastrophe in India shows it is way too early to sound the all clear. But the economic cost is only too apparent, with the International Monetary Fund warning in the autumn that Africa faces a shortfall in the funds needed for future development — a financial gap — of $290 billion up to 2023.
A moratorium on the service of public debt agreed by the Paris Club and the G20 in April last year was welcomed but will not be enough on its own. Many want a moratorium on the service of all external debt until the end of the pandemic. “We are collectively in the process of abandoning Africa by using solutions that date from the 1960s,” Macron said last month, warning that failure would lead to reduced economic opportunity, sudden migration flows and even the expansion of terrorism.
International financial leaders attending would include IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva as well as World Bank managing director of operations Axel van Trotsenburg. Serge Ekue, the president of the West African Development Bank (BOAD), told AFP that Africa needed much longer loan maturities that went beyond seven years and interest rates that were 3 percent rather than 6 percent. “In West Africa, the average age is 20. You walk in (Ivory Coast’s biggest city) Abidjan and there is incredible energy,” he said, noting that Africa had seen growth rates of 5-6 percent in the last years. “The issue is, therefore, not so much a moratorium as obtaining low rates. Because it is better to issue new, cheaper and longer debt than to obtain a suspension,” he said.
The expectations in Africa are high as usual but the cup of pessimism is just as full. So many of such meetings in the past yielded nothing tangible for Africa. Could this make a difference!