France shifts policy on aid to Africa to counter rising Chinese influence

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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) during an official visit with the interim President of Mali, Bah Ndaw, in Bamako on October 25, 2020. © AFP

PARIS: Africa’s booming economies and population have created lucrative opportunities for international players, making the continent a hotbed of geopolitical competition over the past decade. The International Monetary Fund found in 2019 that Africa had become the world’s fastest-growing region, with the World Economic Forum predicting its population would double to around 2.2 billion by 2050.

China is Africa’s biggest bilateral trading partner, having surpassed the US in 2009. Before the coronavirus crisis hit the world economy, the value of Sino-African trade reached €161 billion ($192 bn) in 2019.

“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,” Dave Roggeveen, the founder of specialist publication MORE Architecture, told Forbes in 2018.

As well as infrastructure, China has invested massively in media in Africa – with state-run Xinhua News Agency developing the continent’s biggest network of correspondents. Nairobi is at the centre of China’s African media presence, with Xinhua moving one of its headquarters from Paris to the Kenyan capital in 2006.

France is now also seeking to make new inroads on the African continent by tweaking its strategy towards developing nations. Paris has managed to increase its global aid budget even amid the coronavirus crisis, with development spending rising from €10.9 billion in 2019 to €12.8 billion in 2020.

On March 2, French MPs approved a bill increasing France’s aid budget to 0.55 percent of GDP by 2022. President Macron’s government is also stepping up efforts to ensure the aid money is effective. The draft law enshrines five key objectives – “to fight against poverty, to counter climate change, to bolster public health, to expand education services and to achieve gender equality” – focused on Sub-Saharan Africa and also Haiti.

“International solidarity has never been more necessary than it is now,” said Louis-Nicolas Jandeaux, a spokesman for Oxfam France. “The Covid-19 pandemic shows us how so many major challenges – like fighting poverty and protecting public health – are connected. Given that France is a leader on these multilateral issues, and given that French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken so much about boosting international co-operation, France really has to set a good example on issues like aid spending.”

The bill also seeks to give France more bang for its aid buck by merging its two development agencies. The French Development Agency – which bestows loans and grants – will be merged with France Expertise – which focuses on the nitty-gritty of development project logistics. This merger will allow French aid workers to “respond better and more directly to the needs of the countries we’re working in”, said Jérémie Pellet, director of France Expertise.

The law includes a plan to repatriate “ill-gotten” assets the French justice system has confiscated from foreign leaders. France has made efforts to go after corrupt politicians who have stashed millions on French soil. In 2020 a Paris court sentenced Teodorin Obiang, vice president of Equatorial Guinea, to three years in prison and a €30 million fine for laundering money through French properties.

Read more at: France 24

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