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Expectations for the G7-Africa Partnership under France's Presidency

Jaquelin Coulson
G7 Research Group
July 10, 2019

As a collective of the world's most industrialized economies, the G7 frequently prioritizes economic development and inequality. Under France's leadership in 2019, discussion of these broader aims has focused on Africa. By inviting countries from Africa to take part in high-level debates and negotiations at the summit in Biarritz, France hopes to place a "new alliance" with Africa "at the heart of the G7."

Engagement with Africa is not new territory for the G7. The first time that African representatives were included in the G7 summit (then the G8 with Russia) was at the 2002 summit in Kananaskis, where engagement with Africa was the "centrepiece." Representatives from five African countries were joined by United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan to discuss the New Partnership for the Africa's Development (NEPAD). An initiative created by African leaders, NEPAD proposed to raise USD64 billion in investments annually in order to sustain high economic growth, and the G8's African Action Plan was a response to this.

Africa has remained at the forefront of G7 discussions. At the 2015 Elmau Summit, leaders reframed the conversation in resolving "not [to] talk about Africa but with Africa," and developed new policies particularly in the areas of climate, food security and women's issues. By that time, each of the G7 members had appointed personal representatives for Africa to improve their cooperative relationships.

Under Italy's presidency in 2017, the G7 met with African representatives once again, this time notably including the presidents of the African Union (AU) and African Development Bank (AfDB). Discussion focused on how the G7 could work with the AU to meet its development goals, and on this matter the G7 People-Centered Action Plan on Innovation, Skills and Labor was instructive. The plan emphasized the need to attract private investment, support innovative food-related entrepreneurial ventures, and strengthen equitable employment and professional training opportunities.

France has an extensive history of involvement in Africa, based on their shared past, cultural identities and economic ties. France and Africa share certain cultural features, with much of Africa being included in La Francophonie. Africa is home to over 100 million French speakers — more than half of French speakers globally – and France, for its part, receives many African immigrants — 2.3 million in 2008. "Africa," President Emmanuel Macron has said, "is carved into France's collective memory, in its culture, in its history, in its identity." Economic ties are similarly strong. At €5.6 million as of 2017, French exports to Africa are the second highest among European countries, and French firms frequently seek investment and contracting opportunities with African states. Moreover, Paris intends to increase aid flows to Africa to €20 billion in 2019 and increasingly favours grants over loans for the countries with greatest need.

Given France and the G7's common legacy of involvement with Africa, it is thus natural for France to make Africa an important focus of its G7 presidency. For France, Africa is "a breeding ground for development challenges," but also "for opportunities to build future equality." African countries hold the seven highest rates of inequality according to the Gini index, and current forecasts predict that by 2030, 9 in 10 of those living in extreme poverty will live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Conversely, there is also opportunity. With an average of 4.7% in annual growth in gross domestic product, Africa was the second fastest-growing region from 2000 to 2017. By 2050, Africa will be home to one quarter of the world's working age population.

The governance and development challenges and opportunities facing Africa thus align well with France's "five goals for fighting inequality" under G7 auspices, including improving education accessibility and healthcare quality, striving for gender equality, and promoting equitable trade, tax and development policies that spur investment and innovation. Under France's leadership, there will likely be further development of aid and cooperation in these areas, which have featured in G7-Africa initiatives over the past decade, although implementation may look somewhat different. Macron has pursued a "new phase" in development aid with a sectoral priority on security and greater emphasis on non-governmental organizations as the aid recipients best equipped to implement aid programs. This less state-centric approach that prioritizes a direct and equal partnership with Africa may be reflected in the development initiatives coming out of Biarritz.

Security-focused initiatives will likely also be on the agenda. France has been vocal in its concerns about the proliferation of terrorist groups such as Daesh and Boko Haram across Northern Africa and the Middle East, and it has been active in its response, maintaining a military presence in the Sahel region since 2013. In 2014, France sponsored the UN resolution that launched Operation Barkhane — 4,000 of the 5,000 troops of which are French — which has provided military assistance to combat terrorism and illicit arms trafficking. France also works closely with the G5 Sahel and the Sahel Alliance in their human security efforts geared toward governance reform and rural development.

The common security and counter-terrorism challenges that France and Africa face are shared as well by the G7. Beyond the G7's general interest as a global leader in stymying terrorists threats to world peace, many of the members are geographically close to these concern areas, and, like France, have incurred terrorist attacks on their home soil. The fourth goal of France's presidency regarding "security threats and terrorism" seeks to address this concern. Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's foreign minister, has further specified that he and his counterparts will "discuss support for African peace operations in terms of capacity and funding, especially in the Sahel." In an increasingly globalizing world, the G7 cannot tackle transnational terrorism alone, and as "a stakeholder that is already drawing up its own solutions" to these threats, Africa is a crucial partner in these aims.

Supported by France and Africa's shared memory of the past and vision for the future, the G7 from Biarritz will likely move toward a more security-focused approach to development, which will nonetheless deepen its partnership with Africa on the basis of equality and mutual cooperation.

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Jaquelin CoulsonJaquelin Coulson has been a compliance analyst with the G7 Research Group since January 2018. She is currently studying at the University of Western Ontario, and expects to graduate in May 2020 with an honours specialization in international relations and a minor in economics.

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