France and Africa opened new venues for cooperation on Tuesday to reshape global diplomacy, boost trade, battle climate change and fight pirates.
At a two-day summit in the Riviera city of Nice, France shifted its focus away from its traditional west African allies and engaged with the continent as a whole, reaching out to economic powerhouses South Africa and Nigeria.
“This summit is a new step,” Sarkozy told reporters after meeting with the 38 African leaders for his first Africa-France summit since taking office in 2007.
The French president waded into the heated debate over United Nations reform, backing Africa’s call for more seats at the Security Council and also a voice at the Group of 20 club of rich economies.
“How can we accept a world where 25 percent of the population lives in Africa and yet it does not have a permanent seat at the Security Council?” Sarkozy said.
“This is an anomaly, an injustice and a source of imbalance,” said the president who pledged to push for change to give Africa more of a say, in particular when France takes the helm of the G20 next year.
Describing global governance as a “critical point” for Africa, South African President Jacob Zuma said leaders had agreed to discuss at their next African Union summit a French proposal to seek two Security Council seats with 10-year mandates.
That would be an intermediary step on the way to satisfying Africa’s long-standing demand for two permanent Security Council seats with veto powers.
“We cannot have institutions that were established in the 1940s, when there were fewer countries and colonialism,” said Zuma.
“Those rules are outdated.”
While global governance topped Africa’s list of demands, France put strong emphasis on economic ties, inviting more than 200 French and African heads of companies to the summit.
The push on the economic front comes as France has taken a back seat to China, Africa’s biggest trade partner, which has injected billions over the past decade to tap into raw materials needed to fuel its hungry economy.
French oil giant Total, nuclear behemoth Areva and other firms launched a solar power project for southern Africa to generate badly-needed electricity with state-of-the-art French technology.
“France has technology and we can put it to good use for Africa, instead of having aid budgets that never fulfil their promise,” Sarkozy said.
No figures were released on new French investments but Sarkozy made clear that France was back in force on the trade front.
“France and Africa are overflowing with projects,” he said.
Talks also touched on climate change, with Africa and France calling on developing countries to make good on their promises of 30 billion dollars in aid, made at the Copenhagen summit in December.
Part of the funds are earmarked for battling deforestation in the Congo basin, home to the world’s second largest rainforest after the Amazon of Brazil.
Africa is “not the cause nor the victim of climate change,” said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Africa’s negotiator on climate change, adding that he had yet to see the funds promised at Copenhagen.
France also pledged to help Africa combat piracy, terrorism and drug trafficking, with Sarkozy stressing that Africa “cannot cope on its own.”
East African countries do not have the naval forces needed to eradicate piracy from Somalia’s coastal waters, he said while lamenting the “terrorism that is poisoning the Sahel region.”