Saturday, May 29, 2010

France to Host 25th Annual Africa-France Summit

By Lisa Bryant
VOA News
Paris, May 29, 210

Former colonial power France is hosting a summit Monday and Tuesday gathering dozens of African leaders in the Riviera city of Nice. On the agenda: peace and security, climate and development and Africa's place on the world stage.

France has invited more than 50 African states to the Nice gathering, the 25th annual Africa-France summit. It is among several events being hosted by France this year to celebrate Africa. African heads of state have also been invited for Bastille Day celebrations July 14 that will feature African and French troops marching down the Champs Elysees in Paris.

This France-Africa summit is particularly significant. Hosted by former colonial power France, it comes as many African countries are marking their 50th anniversaries of independence. Not on the guest list are President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and President Omar Beshir of Sudan - the target of an international arrest warrant. Several other African leaders are also not expected to attend.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is co-hosting the summit with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak . Mr. Sarkozy promised several years ago to break from past French-African relations, which critics say was marked by cronyism, opacity and French support of undemocratic regimes.

Despite that vow, Alain Antil, head of sub-Saharan Africa programs at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris, says in some ways it is business as usual.

As in the past, Antil says, France's Africa diplomacy is managed by the presidency and a small group of advisors. As in the past, he says, France continues to maintain close ties with African leaders who have blemished records. It maintained a low profile over the outcome of some disputed elections, notably in Guinea and Togo, where the sons of former strongmen were declared the winners.

Antil also notes that while France is a leading aid donor to Africa, it has not always honored the pledges it has made. But, he says, France remains a strong champion of African development.

At the Copenhagen global warming summit last December, Mr. Sarkozy challenged rich nations to come up with billions of dollars to help the continent deal with climate change. The French President urged African nations to fight for their rights. His emotional speech was met with applause.

But overall, Antil says, French-African relations are based on a large dose of pragmatism.

Faced with growing competition from China and the United States, Antil says France is scrambling to diversify its economic interests on the continent - looking beyond francophone Africa to invest in emerging markets like Angola.

Underscoring Africa's economic importance, the French government has invited dozens of French and African businessmen to the summit - which is a first. A separate French-Africa business forum will also be taking place just after the summit, in the French city of Bordeaux.

A group of French and African non-governmental organizations is pushing for another agenda at the summit - one emphasizing questions of democracy and justice.

Groggier Niaudet, heads Africa projects at the French charity Secours Catholique, a leading member of the group.

Niaudet says the Nice summit's agenda fails to address controversial issues like official corruption and tax evasion in Africa - or the fact, he says, that recent years have marked setback for democracy in a number of Africa countries.

Analyst Antil believe French and Africa leaders will at least acknowledge the need to fight against corruption and for development and peace in Africa. But as is the case with many summits, he doubts this one will produce anything tangible.

What is of interest, he says, is that Nice will provide a forum for discussion - with many of the most interesting issues tackled far away from the media spotlight.

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