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France Seeks Innovative Ties With Africa

A symbolic event took place in Montpellier, France on 8 October, 2021. It was the gathering of some African youth to address concerns of the continent vis a vis France, a colonial master of several African countries. Over the years, relations between France and Africa have gone beyond colonial legacies to include most of the continent in what has become known as Françafrique (French Africa). Discussions were always at the summit level with Heads of State from Africa meeting their French counterpart at specific intervals and in a designated country to define policy issues that would mark their cooperation ties. But the context of the Covid-19 since 2020 has resulted in innovative ways of letting the public know what the future holds for both parties. After months of reflection, the Cameroonian intellectual, Achille Mbembe who had the responsibility of carving out the dialogue, selected a crop of 12 young African youth from the civil society to share their thoughts with President Emmanuel Macron in Montpellier. It was to say the least fiery, with the youth expressing anger and frustration at past and recent French actions on the continent. Coming from Burkina Faso, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and so on, they also including 3,000 people invited to attend the round table on the theme; «Citizen Engagement and Democracy». The issues discussed were varied. Talking about a recent decision by Paris to cut down the number of visas for Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans, Mehdi Alioua, a Professor of Political Science in Rabat qualified the measure as “collective punishment» and a system of humiliation and vexation. What the youth called French intervention in democracy in Africa also drew much attention. Habiba Issa Moussa, Nigerian-born who is a student of the University of Aix-Marseille said; «We are stuck between a condescending Western discourse that wants to educate Africans and a discourse of our governments saying that Westerners want to impose their values.» While Clément Dako, a Malian argued that; «We must rethink governance in Africa and not copy and paste the European model of governance,» Sibila Saminatou Ouedraogo from Burkinabe criticized «the relationship of dependence» of Africa to France.

The topics discussed have attracted wide spread public attention across Africa. Some are even quick to say it could mean a new beginning for Franco-African ties. Judging from the frank discussions at the meeting generally, there are people who think such initiatives can help in reshaping the paternalistic state of relations between France and Africa. Some observers have rightly or not accused France of being directly responsible for the inability of Africa to come up with its own development model. They cite the continuous economic and military presence France has on the continent especially in its former colonies, saying such garrisons are there to thwart any attempts by African leaders to stray away from French control.

Whatever the outlook of the Montpellier summit as some chose to call it, the fact is that Africa will continue to be a vital sources of raw material for most Western countries. With growing industrialization, there is need for African countries to work out their own models of development even if they are all too conscious of the role their colonial powers play in the stability of their countries. By expressing their views candidly to the French President on 8 October, 221 African youth must have dished out their concerns but what difference will such declarations make? The response to this question may only come in future. Of course, the extent to which views from Africa matter to Western countries will only take shape depending on the level of charisma that African civil society, public opinion and leaders can create in fostering a truly African vision of global events. The consciousness from African youth can already be the right step in the right direction. Engagements like those taken by the French President during the Montpellier summit to replace development aid with investment or solidarity funding could equally be another benchmark to see how relations between Africa and France are refashioned.

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