MACRON HOSTS SUMMIT ON AFRICAN RECOVERY 

France-Africa

By Alex Pollock

After outlining a fresh chapter in French-African relations, with calls for massive economic support for Africa and visits to Rwanda and South Africa last week, [French] President Emmanuel Macron is back home to confront familiar and thorny problems in France’s former colonies, underscoring the challenges of breaking with the past. The calls fit into Macron’s broader reset of relations with the continent since taking office in 2017.  (VOA News)

The Paris Summit

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a summit on African development on Tuesday 18 May at the Grand Palais Éphémère in Paris centred around the revival of African economies and COVID-19 relief. The Paris Summit was attended by over 40 leaders of African, European, and Asian countries, as well as leaders from international banks, the European Union (EU), and international aid agencies. Mr Macron proposed a “New Deal for Africa and by Africa” that would address inequalities between wealthier nations and developing countries, increase the number of vaccines available to African nations, help relieve debt, and spur economic growth. 

The economic impact of the pandemic has exacerbated many African countries’ debt crises. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that Africa will face a budget deficit of $290 billion through 2023, which could “undermine all efforts at development.”

Africa’s economic growth rate is set to increase by only 3.2% in 2021, with the rest of the world’s economies anticipating growth of up to 6%. The African Development Bank predicts that 39 million people could fall into poverty in Africa if there is no economic intervention. The final economic issue raised at the Paris Summit was the agreement on a moratorium on the payment of public debt that was discussed at a previous meeting in April. Several public debt lenders agreed to allow extra time for several low-income nations to pay back national debts. 

The other main topic discussed at the summit was the issue of COVID-19 vaccines. Mr Macron set the goal to vaccinate up to 40% of Africa’s population by the end of 2021. He also argued for the repeal of vaccine patents to allow African countries to start developing their own vaccines. Globally, the vaccination rate is currently at 150 vaccines per 1,000 people. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, it is only eight vaccines per 1,000 people. 

“We are asking the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Medicines Patent Pool to remove all these constraints in terms of intellectual property which blocks the production of certain types of vaccines,” Mr Macron said at the summit. “The current situation is not sustainable; it is both unfair and inefficient.”

African leaders present at the summit praised Mr Macron for his approach to African recovery. Senegal President Macky Sall applauded the “change of mentality” of Mr Macron’s approach. “We have a common responsibility; vaccinating one’s own populations does not guarantee health security,” he said, adding that global health depends on the vaccination of Africans. 

France’s role in Africa

France has a long and storied relationship with Africa, having colonised and maintained some level of influence in several African nations. The concept of ‘Françafrique’ is described as “France’s sphere of influence over former French and Belgian colonies in sub-Saharan Africa.” France’s African colonies began to achieve independence in the 1950s, but France maintained a measure of power and influence over the socio-political systems of these countries. Then-French-President Charles de Gaulle used French intervention in Africa to present France as a major global power that could rival British and American global influence. The United States supported France in its control of African countries to prevent Africa from coming under Soviet control. France was active in the political, economic, and military efforts of its former colonies through most of the 20th Century. 

‘Françafrique’ is criticised by some, who claim that France has hindered African countries from becoming fully independent. Others have criticised France’s exploitation of Africa’s natural resources, as well as its arms sales to African countries. 

Over the past several months, there has been a renewed emphasis on the negative impact France (and European colonialism in general) has had on African countries. Mr Macron has made multiple visits to Africa to meet with influential leaders to try to ‘reset’ relations.  While on a recent trip to Rwanda, Mr Macron delivered a speech in which he admitted France’s “responsibility” in the 1994 genocide, asking the Rwandan government and people for forgiveness for “standing by a genocidal regime.” “Standing here today, with humility and respect, by your side, I have come to recognise our responsibilities,” Mr Macron said. While he claimed that France “was not an accomplice” to the genocide, he acknowledged that “only those who had survived the horrors can maybe forgive.” 

Rwandan President Paul Kagame praised Mr Macron’s comments. “His words were something more valuable than an apology. They were the truth,” Mr Kagame told a joint press conference after the meeting. 

Germany, another colonial power, recently apologised for its role in the genocide of Herero and Nama tribespeople in Namibia over 100 years ago, in what the United Nations has called the first genocide of the 20th Century. While Germany previously accepted responsibility for the massacre, the announcement on 28 May was the first time Germany described the killings as “genocide.” As reparation, Germany has agreed to donate more than one billion euros to fund infrastructure projects in the communities affected by the genocide. 

Mr Macron also recently visited South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the donation of millions of vaccine doses. Mr Macron vowed to help Africa gain access to and begin to create its own vaccine doses. Mr Macron’s visits to Africa are seen as pre-emptive measures to counteract China and Russia’s efforts to exploit France’s rocky history in Africa and thus further their influence on the continent. 

Foreign involvement in Africa

A recent announcement by US Marine General Frank McKenzie that the United States is planning to decrease its military presence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has potentially opened a door for China and Russia to step in and fill the void in the region. Mr McKenzie told journalists that weapons sales could be one area where China or Russia could make headway if the US withdraws. China has been expanding its military presence throughout Asia and has in recent years become one of the largest investors in the African continent. Chinese companies have contributed to several infrastructure projects in many African countries, providing much of the funding for the building of railroads, hospitals, schools, and stadiums. 

“Right now, you could say that any big project in African cities that is higher than three floors or roads that are longer than three kilometres are most likely being built and engineered by the Chinese. It is ubiquitous,” said Daan Roggeveen, the founder of MORE Architecture.

China has steadily increased its presence in Africa since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. China initially lobbied African countries to recognise its new government and repaid the countries that did so with funding for infrastructure projects. It was around that time that many African countries were gaining independence from colonial powers, leaving the door open for China to move in. 

China has become Africa’s largest trade partner with more than $200 billion in trade each year. There are currently more than 10,000 Chinese companies operating in Africa and $300 billion in investments by the Chinese in the continent. Historically, China has used France’s “bloody past” to persuade African leaders to move away from the European nations in favour of China. 

Russia has also attempted to increase its presence in Africa, with President Vladimir Putin calling Africa one of Moscow’s foreign policy priorities. Moscow has expressed its intention to provide African nations with political and diplomatic support, security, economic assistance, and humanitarian relief, as well as educational resources. Russia hosted six African leaders in 2018 to build stronger relations. Russia’s push for influence in Africa led the United States to adopt an alternate strategy towards Africa in 2018, to stave off both Chinese and Russian influence. 

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

Christian communities in Northern Africa were some of the first in the world, dating back to the first and second centuries. Once introduced to North Africa, Christianity slowly began to spread and was recognised as the “religion of dissent against the Roman Empire.” However, in the seventh century, the spread of Christianity in Africa dwindled due to the rise of Islam but remained the major religion in the Ethiopian empire and pockets around North Africa.  

A new wave of growth for the Church in Africa came in the 15th Century with the arrival of the Portuguese, and Catholicism. As other European colonial powers advanced into Africa, they brought Christianity and missionaries with them. However, early Christian evangelistic endeavours carried out by colonial powers were not always a positive thing in the African context. Converting to Christianity under colonial rule often meant the complete denouncing of African culture. Simultaneously, Islam was also growing in Africa. Aspects of Islam allowed Africans to maintain some of their cultural practices, thus making it more desirable for some Africans to adopt Islam than Christianity. Both Islam and Christianity continued to spread throughout Africa, leading to the current religious makeup of the continent, with many North African countries being predominantly Islamic, and many southern African countries being predominantly Christian. 

The colonial powers in Africa, mainly France and Germany (but also Britain), still influence religion in African countries today, in a variety of ways. But from a leadership perspective, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken of how her Christian faith and her religious ideals helped shape her policies, especially as they relate to refugees (including those from Africa) and caring for those who are suffering. Germany has been one of the most accepting nations when it comes to refugee resettlement in Europe. As Ms Merkel’s influence has decreased, President Macron of France has increased his influence, but his leadership style has been more vocally secular than Christian. From an African migrant perspective, Europe is a changing landscape too, as African immigrants bring their religious convictions with them. There is a growing African Islamic presence, especially in France, but there are also African Christians who are sharing the gospel in their European homes – both with other migrants and with more secular Europeans.

Mr Macron has demonstrated a willingness to step into a leadership role in the development and recovery of African nations, which has made him the primary European influencer in Africa. France has military troops in several African nations and has led an initiative to counteract Islamic extremist groups throughout West and North Africa (predominantly the Sahel region). 

France and Germany’s willingness to admit to past mistakes made during colonial times, and to work towards making genuine progress through reconciliation shows that while ‘Christian’ nations do not always get it right, there is always hope for peace and reconciliation. In the same way, where Church and mission activities of the past perhaps harmed and hindered the receiving culture, repentance and reconciliation could go a long way in restoring communities and could bear much fruit for the Kingdom. The growth of the Church in Africa reminds us that it is the Lord who ultimately “builds His Church” (Matthew 16:18) and that He will prevail. However, that does not absolve Christians from accepting responsibility where they have erred or even sinned in their actions towards receiving communities. The Church has a massively strategic role to play in every place it has a presence, and it should not be left to worldly leaders to dominate all levels of socio-political life in Africa. 

Please pray with us for the following

  • For the success of initiatives aimed at furthering the development and recovery of African nations
  • For the African Church to continue to grow and for believers to seize every opportunity to positively impact their communities and their nations 
  • For the global Church to come alongside their African brothers and sisters, supporting their efforts and interceding for them

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Image: REUTERS/Ludovic Marin

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