Africa: Interview Given by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, to the Weekly News Magazine, 'Les Afriques' (Excerpts)

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Photo: French Foreign Ministry
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France with Niger's president Mamadou Tandja (file photo): Tandja was invited to the summit after the military promised to restore civilian rule.

Paris — Business will have "pride of place" at this week's France-Africa summit, the first to be open to non-state players, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Les Afriques, according to a transcript of excerpts of the interview published by the French foreign ministry:

When it comes to Africa, France is criticized simultaneously for her involvement and non-involvement. But isn't France herself torn between a sincere desire to establish a looser relationship with Africa and a temptation, or even necessity, to maintain know-how and experience she has gained.

THE PRESIDENT - (…) I reject the idea of a need to choose between a looser and a preferential relationship. My ambition has always been to reconcile the two. This is why, ever since my election, I have proposed to our African partners placing our special bond on a new footing, with no taboos.

I firmly believe that the fact that our relationship goes back a long way and the strength of the bonds between our countries and peoples are not obstacles to a looser relationship, quite the contrary. On one condition: that this special bond, what you call the "know-how and experience we have gained" does not simply reflect a legacy, and even less an unwarranted and outmoded privilege. Fifty years after gaining independence and against a background of globalization, no one, neither Africans nor French, would understand it.

The fact is that today France and Africa have very many common interests and objective reasons for placing our special bond on a new footing. This is what we are together, Africans and French, in the process of doing.

FRANCE/AFRICA/TRADE/COPENHAGEN/COMPETITION

At a time when emerging countries such as China, Brazil, India and Korea are markedly developing their relations with Africa, France is often criticized for doing the reverse. Do you think this feeling is justified? And if not, how do you explain this perception?

THE PRESIDENT - You talk to me about a perception, I'd like to talk to you about concrete facts. And the reality is that the ties between Africa and France aren't only not decreasing, but have been growing stronger for ten years. Take trade: over the past ten years, our exports to Africa have risen by nearly 30% and our imports by nearly 40%.

But the economy isn't the only thing. More than ever, for France, Africa is a partner in globalization, an ally when it comes to confronting the challenges of the 21st century. Remember Copenhagen! Admittedly, the summit's results did not live up to all our expectations, but we achieved some absolutely huge advances, particularly with respect to short and long-term funding. What is this funding going to be used for? To help the countries in most need of it, particularly in Africa, address the challenge of climate change. And we're talking about gigantic sums: $10 billion a year until 2012, then the amounts will increase, rising to $100 billion from 2020. And the alliance between Africa and France and, through her, Europe, played an absolutely crucial role in achieving this.

So why this impression of a lower commitment? Because, as you said, today more and more countries are taking an interest in Africa. The arrival of these new players can give the impression - a false one - of a lower commitment on the part of those there before. It's often like that, the last to arrive attracts the most notice.

But I am going to be very frank: personally, I think it's very good that France and her African partners no longer have exclusive relations. The concepts of exclusive partnership, private domains no longer exist and this is very good.

Admittedly, for a long time France opted for Africa. Our companies were often the first to come and work on your continent at a time when few people took an interest in Africa. But the fact that others are coming - Americans, Chinese, Indians and so on - doesn't bother me at all. On the contrary. It's a very good thing that more and more countries are taking an interest in Africa, investing in Africa. The needs are immense. And it's proof that there's a future for your continent.

There is increased competition, so much the better! Competition is good for Africa: it compels our companies to put their best foot forward. I'd only add that the competition playing field must be level.

And I'll say something else: we, the developed countries and particularly France, have done a lot to reduce Africa's debt. It's important for these new partners not to increase it again, since that would certainly not be doing Africa a service. (…)

DEMOCRACY

Last year, Michel Rocard told our newspaper: "we made the mistake of believing that democracy consisted solely of multipartyism and elections". Do you share this mea culpa?

THE PRESIDENT - I totally share his view. It would be a serious mistake to reduce democracy to multipartyism and elections. They are, of course, two necessary conditions, but they are far from sufficient. Elections must also be free, honest and transparent. There also has to be a rule of law guaranteeing respect for individual and collective fundamental freedoms. And a neutral administration, independent judiciary and a free and responsible press.

So you see, for me, democracy is inseparable from human rights. And I reject any idea of an African exception on these issues. I reject the argument reducing them to values imposed from outside on African societies which Western arrogance has described as universal. Democracy and human rights are African values too because they are universal values and reflect the aspirations of all mankind.

Moreover, democratization and the wave of multipartyism which swept through Africa in the 1990s in the first place fulfilled an African aspiration. The crises of the past few months in several African countries have underlined the fragility of these achievements, but democracy isn't just a political system or a culture, it's also a process. Moreover, even in these crises, there are some positive signs. I'm thinking for example of the very courageous stance of Niger's Constitutional Court. (…)

FRANCE/AFRICAN STUDENTS/IMMIGRATION POLICY

Young Africans are less and less inclined to think of France when planning their studies or careers. Do you regard this reduction in France's attractiveness as a success for your immigration policy?

THE PRESIDENT - Right away, I have to tell you that the idea of there being fewer African students in France is quite simply wrong. In actual fact there have never been so many African students in France, over 100,000 and the number is continuing to rise every year. They account for over half the foreign students in our universities. And France remains the most popular country for African students.

So there's no sense in believing that the aim of the immigration policy we are implementing is to cut the number of African students. Moreover, I have said several times that we were ready to take in more African students. Simply, we don't want this to happen at the expense of their countries of origin. Because African countries need their elites, their educated and trained young people for their development. Africa has suffered too much from the brain drain and I won't be complicit in it.

I am keen for us to continue encouraging African students to come to France so that they can benefit from our training courses and/or a first professional experience; but once trained, they must return to their countries of origin to contribute to their development.

It is with this in mind that we have established an immigration policy agreed with the countries of origin. We have already signed agreements of this type, with Gabon, Senegal, Congo, Benin and also Tunisia.

We want properly controlled, regulated and organized immigration, so that we can admit the people who come to France in a dignified manner. This has to entail, among other things, waging a merciless battle against illegal immigration, and in particular the Mafias which exploit destitution.

NICE AFRICA-FRANCE SUMMIT

This year the forthcoming Africa-France summit is being opened up to private and particularly African businesses. What can France expect today from African entrepreneurs?

THE PRESIDENT - The forthcoming Africa-France summit will indeed, and for the first time, be open to non-State players, such as companies, civil societies, the world of the arts and voluntary sector. They are what make relations between Africa and France both substantive and distinctive.

In Nice, businesses will have pride of place, since not only over 200 French and African entrepreneurs, but also representatives of trade union organizations will be taking part in the discussions.

Immediately after my election, I suggested to our African partners that we should modernize these summits, not only to adapt them to the new realities of relations between Africa and France, but also to address more effectively the challenges of the 21st century. This is what we have done.

The Nice Summit will provide the opportunity to tackle the essential problems in the development of the African economies: how to improve the business environment in Africa? How to encourage the financing of African companies? How to develop vocational training? We will also be talking about firms' social responsibility and environmental accountability. On all these issues, the aim will be to provide concrete answers.

In particular, the Nice Summit should see the adoption of a Business Charter in Africa, under which the French companies established on the African continent will undertake clear commitments to serve their host countries in the fields of training, respect for social and environmental standards and also subcontracting.

On your second question - what we are doing for African entrepreneurs - France has made development of the African private sector a priority of her development policy. It's with this in mind that, in February 2008, I launched the Cape Town initiative whose objective is precisely to support development of the African private sector. As a result of this initiative, which is going to mobilize €2.5 billion over five years, nearly 2,000 African businesses will be directly or indirectly financed and eventually over 300,000 jobs created.

Concretely, the Cape Town initiative is based on three instruments. Firstly, doubling of the activity of the French Development Agency in support of the private sector, with a €2 billion commitment over five years, thanks in particular to the tripling of the capital of Proparco, the private-sector investment arm of the AFD. Secondly, creation of a €250 million fund to invest either directly in businesses, or in other funds. Finally, thirdly, establishment of a guarantee fund, which will likewise have a €250 million endowment to facilitate access to bank credit and capital for African businesses, and particularly SMEs. (…)

AFRICAN FINANCIAL SECTOR/ODA

For some years we have been witnessing the emergence of a dynamic and well-managed African financial sector. How will this new situation change French cooperation policy in Africa?

THE PRESIDENT - You are right. This isn't perhaps said enough, but the emergence in the past few years of diligent, efficient and reliable financial institutions in Africa is an absolutely major step forward in the continent's development, because a sound financial environment is an absolute requisite for the growth of a dynamic private sector which is the key to Africa's development.

You must understand me: I believe that official development assistance (ODA) is necessary; this is why, despite the unprecedented economic crisis we are going though, France has decided to maintain and even increase her development effort. Our ODA rose from 0.38% of GDP in 2007 to 0.46% in 2009. But I am convinced that Africa's development also - and perhaps above all - requires the development of the private sector, which creates more growth, more wealth and more jobs. (…)

An expert from Goldman Sachs, Dambisa Moyo, is currently enjoying huge international success by maintaining, in her book "Dead Aid", that aid is counterproductive for Africa's development. What's your position in this debate which is resurfacing?

THE PRESIDENT - The idea that aid actually harms development is not only wrong, but dangerous. I believe in international solidarity and am convinced that aid is not just useful, but essential to enable a number of countries in the world to address the development challenge. Of course, official development aid can't be enough, on its own, to ensure development; only the emergence of a dynamic private sector can give Africa the growth it needs. (…)

So it's a mistake to see development assistance as standing in the way of the emergence of a strong private sector. If the assistance is well designed, it will, on the contrary, encourage the building of a solid economy. (…).

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