Interview with Michael Lebedev and Lucien Pambou
Jean-Marie Bockel co-authored, together with Jeanny Lorgeoux, the Socialist senator with a special interest in African affairs, an information report made on behalf of the Commission of Foreign Affairs, Defence and the Armed Forces, with a very Afro-optimist tone, entitled “Africa is our future,” which was presented to the Senate on 30 October 2013. The purpose of the document is to establish a complete and detailed analysis of the changes taking place in sub- Saharan Africa and
Interview with Michael Lebedev and Lucien Pambou
Jean-Marie Bockel co-authored, together with Jeanny Lorgeoux, the Socialist senator with a special interest in African affairs, an information report made on behalf of the Commission of Foreign Affairs, Defence and the Armed Forces, with a very Afro-optimist tone, entitled “Africa is our future,” which was presented to the Senate on 30 October 2013. The purpose of the document is to establish a complete and detailed analysis of the changes taking place in sub- Saharan Africa and of France’s relations with the countries in this region. The report identifies 10 priorities and 70 measures to revive Franco-African relations in the context of a dynamic and mutually beneficial partnership in the spheres of economics, development, defence and culture. The authors propose, inter alia, the recreation of an autonomous Ministry of Cooperation. Jean-Marie Bockel was kind enough to agree to the request of African Geopolitics to comment, for our readers, on the broad outlines of this important document.
African Geopolitics —WHY DO YOU THINK THAT AFRICA IS OUR FUTURE — AND NOT, FOR EXAMPLE, AS IT IS CURRENTLY FASHIONABLE TO CLAIM, ASIA OR LATIN AMERICA, OR INDEED THE “EMERGING NEW WORLD” AS A WHOLE?
Jean-Marie Bockel — We are emerging from a period of Afro- pessimism marked, until recently, by the unfortunately well-known key phrase of “Black Africa has got off to a bad start.” It was a time when, in comparison with the “new dragons” of Asia, Africa had once more become a kind of terra incognita, a place where, at best, nothing much was happening. Today, obviously, things have changed profoundly and rapidly in a way that, to some extent, was quite unexpected in view of the prevailing apathy and the persistence of the old stereotypes.
Africa has now become the continent that is the universal object of desire, as can be seen in the case of the emerging nations, beginning with China, which have a strong presence and are initiating considerable change. But before the impact of all these outside factors, it was Africa itself — the States, the economic environment, business circles, civil society — which had set off on the path to strong and continued growth. Of course, such growth is uneven because there are still countries which have not yet been able to overcome their problems and participate in the take-off.
At the same time, Africa represents a great challenge for us, its closest neighbours, and for humanity as a whole: firstly it poses a demographic challenge with an increase of one billion inhabitants in the next four decades; it also poses an ecological challenge since its rapid population growth has an extremely powerful environmental impact on water, forests and the exploitation of mineral resources. There is also the issue of migration — Africa has a young population, at least half being under 25, in contrast to an ageing Europe …
Africa is also our future in terms of other challenges which we must meet: the challenge of poverty which has not yet been conquered despite the growth and emergence of the middle classes; the health challenge since, on average, people are still dying much younger in Africa than elsewhere; the security challenge because it has not yet been possible to eradicate conflict and attacks on human rights. What is encouraging is that we have already been able to make some progress in the areas of consolidation of democracy and respect for human rights, the fight against poverty, the strengthening of security and reducing the terrorist threat and all kinds of trafficking.
Consequently, like it or not, Africa is our future: we regard this fact in a positive light and see it as an opportunity, a chance to establish new partnerships on a footing of equality of interests — for us, the French, for all Europeans and all Africans.
G. A. — JEUNE AFRIQUE TAKES THE VIEW THAT IT IS A RELATIONSHIP WHICH “EXPLODES CONVENTIONAL WISDOM.” IN WHAT WAY CAN YOUR VISION OF AFRICA AND ITS PLACE IN THE WORLD BE CONSIDERED ICONOCLASTIC?
J.-M. B. — The old perceptions are still strong and we are still hearing them today — as in the case of the debates on “Françafrique,” the “private preserve” or the “ill-gotten wealth”… But these debates belong to the past, while the reality and key issue of the present and the future is that Africa has changed, is continuing to change, at great speed and is not waiting for us … That is why we have chosen to go beyond the usual backward-looking discourse on, for example, development aid or Francophonie, and to look resolutely to the future with the idea that we must build the future on an equal footing and that it is not only Africa that needs us, but we who need Africa just as much as it needs us.
Therefore, fundamentally this report is saying things that many people have already understood, but which a section of the political circles and the media have not yet chosen to accept: the order has fundamentally changed and it is a matter of urgency to wake up and see what is really at stake, the real issues, the real exchanges, the real partnerships.
G. A. — YOU SEEM TO HAVE TRIED NOT ONLY TO “MAKE A DIAGNOSIS,” BUT MORE PARTICULARLY TO LAUNCH A CHANGE. DO YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN ACHIEVE THIS SECOND OBJECTIVE? IN CONCRETE TERMS, WHAT IS THIS CHANGE?
J.-M. B. —France has a number of advantages which are not solely strategic in character. We need to approach today’s world strengthened by a renewed relationship with Africa: France must stop hesitating between interference and indifference and establish a strategy based on its assets. These are primarily economic, even if we have lost some of our influence because others have arrived — and indeed that is good, since now Africa has the opportunity to make choices and establish some rules of the game.
Secondly, there is the linguistic advantage; it still exists, but needs to be re-evaluated: Francophonie is sometimes on the surface of things with an underlying aspiration to belong to a community, to be close to France and its culture; in return, we must signal encouragement to the students, researchers, businessmen through our visa policies — and that is the proposal we make in our report.
There is also a new security order: in a few years, France has moved beyond — which is very positive — the vision of a postcolonial State with standby troops which have been able, it is true, to intervene in the past to save regimes and maintain the status quo. Its recent operations — France, moreover, seems in fact to be the only European country with the necessary capacity — were put in place in compliance with the rules of international law regarding the request for intervention, with the support of the United Nations, the African States and in partnership with the African Union. In essence, this has shown that it is possible to be a security partner that respects Africa and the international rules and to engage in a multilateral approach with African forces, even if it has not yet been very representative… Our goal is also to contribute to the emergence of African security — and it is a fine mission of which we can be genuinely proud. With our African partners, we have a shared pride in Operation Serval — who could have imagined that a few years ago, although it is true that we faced a threat which did not exist at that time? We must take account of this factor in our new strategy.
This political, security, geopolitical, economic and cultural dimension is leading to genuine changes which present many possibilities for the quality and intensity of our relations and call for the establishment of new strategies.
G. A. — THE REPORT HIGHLIGHTS TEN PRIORITIES BROKEN DOWN INTO 70 MEASURES: WHICH ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT AND WHICH OF THEM CAN TAKE CONCRETE FORM AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE?
J.-M. B. — We must not be afraid to identify the economy as the top priority. In a continent growing by an average of 5% per annum there is strong economic expansion which offers many opportunities. Consequently, there is a need to develop economic partnerships through the AFD (French Development Agency) in particular, to strengthen our economic presence, supported by our embassies, economic services and agencies. All this must be done in a spirit that is respectful of the issues of sustainable development which Africa is facing, with equal emphasis on an added value in terms of research and development.
The other priority is to strengthen, if not actually to put at the very heart of our strategy, our advantage in contributing to the security of Africa.
We have also proposed, from a somewhat iconoclastic and purely French standpoint, that we should modify our whole cooperation system. Our report makes a proposal to recreate a Ministry specifically devoted to cooperation which would not be dependent on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — we should not superimpose foreign affairs on development aid and cooperation: a Ministry of International Cooperation, such as the British have created, which would enable us to bring together within the same grouping matters that currently fall, with large budgets, respectively under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Economy.
Lastly, the future of humanity is also experiencing a certain diversity: La Francophonie is not simply about “Frenchness,” it is also about continental law in relation to common law, and that can attract non-Francophone countries, for example those of the Portuguese and Spanish-speaking communities.
G. A. — THE SOCIALISTS BELIEVE THAT THE ABOLITION OF THE INDEPENDENT MINISTRY SIGNALLED THE END OF A LINCHPIN OF “FRANÇAFRIQUE,” A SIGN OF INTEGRATION OF THE WORLD’S DEVELOPING COUNTRIES INTO THE SPHERE OF “NORMAL” RELATIONS WHEREAS, AS FAR AS THE LIBERALS ARE CONCERNED, IT MEANT THE DISMANTLING OF FRENCH COOPERATION FOR DEVELOPMENT, FRANCE’S WITHDRAWAL FROM THIS SECTOR AND THE “ABANDONMENT OF AFRICA.” DO YOU BELIEVE THAT WE SHOULD MOVE ON FROM THIS DEBATE?
J.-M. B. — I do not believe that this is a subject of debate any longer: for example, Jeanny Lorgeoux is a Socialist while I am a member of the opposition, therefore Centre-Right, and we are jointly proposing to create this more effective and better defined instrument. Naturally, there may be some reservations, but the scope of what there is to be done is huge and France would gain in terms of visibility and influence in the world we live in with a specific agency in charge of international development and cooperation — and it will not cost more.
We are not proposing an old-style Ministry of Cooperation. The world has changed and bilateral cooperation is no longer what it was and we are not going back to the major role played by the AFD. The new Ministry must be adapted to a changing world and be flexible and independent; its head must have not only sufficient resources but also play a strong political role in relation to development strategies. The countries which have adopted this approach, in different contexts, such as Great Britain and Germany, have not suffered any disadvantage by doing so; on the contrary, their development policy and their African policy are that much clearer because of it.
G. A. — IT IS TRUE THAT FRENCH DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION WAS MAINLY FOCUSED ON AFRICA. WILL THE MEASURES THAT YOU ARE ADVOCATING MAKE IT POSSIBLE TO TIGHTEN THE LINKS BETWEEN AFRICA AND FRANCE IN A NEW CONTEXT?
J.-M. B. — Africa is the main element of the partnership: about half, in fact more. Consequently, when activities in the same country are coordinated both at the Ministry of the Economy, while others are dealt with at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and still others are dispersed among various other ministries, it means that everything is spread too thinly — that is a strong expression — because resources are dispersed and the effect is not the same as when everything is brought together under one Ministry to concentrate firepower and resources on a given action.
G. A. — YOU ARE PROPOSING A SERIES OF CONCRETE INSTITUTIONAL, DIPLOMATIC AND ECONOMIC MEASURES. WOULD IT NOT BE NECESSARY TO BEGIN WITH A RE-EVALUATION OF FRENCH FOREIGN POLICY AS A WHOLE?
J.-M. B. — It is true that France’s African strategy must be incorporated into a broader vision of our place in the world. But we must not “bite off more than we can chew”: if we want to have clearer and more legible thinking, I think that each continent needs to be taken separately. For example, our relations with the African continent are in no way similar to those we have with Australia.
G. A. — WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE’S AFRICAN POLICY? HOW DO YOU THINK THIS POLICY WILL EVOLVE?
J.-M. B. — I support all the statements made by President Hollande since the beginning of his term of office on his relationship with Africa, just as I supported the statements of Nicolas Sarkozy at the beginning of his five-year term.
But what is said is one thing, and what is done is quite another… François Hollande’s African policy will have to be evaluated in terms of its results, but I can already say that he made good decisions about Mali, and that was a good beginning.
G. A. — HAS THE CONCEPT OF “AFRICA IS OUR FUTURE” BEEN ABLE TO CREATE NEW MOMENTUM WHEN IT COMES TO THE ÉLYSÉE SUMMIT ON PEACE AND SECURITY IN AFRICA?
J.-M. B. — Indeed, from the outset, this report was drafted with the prospect of the summit in view with the goal of bringing it out early enough to make its contents known and enable it to launch a debate. We are parliamentarians and not part of the executive and so we cannot decide on policy, but our work can fuel the reflection that precedes decision-making and action. In this way we can contribute to inspiring France’s African policy and our ambition is that this report should offer ideas and be widely reported.
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