West Africa: France Loses Economic Grip on Region

France is under fire in parts of West Africa for its alleged “stranglehold” on the continent’s economy. Anti-French sentiment in Mali has spread to Burkina Faso where opinion leaders accuse the former colonial power of profiteering. In fact, the French economic presence is in decline.

Close to a third of African countries have been under French control at some point in their history.

This has had a strong impact in cultural, military and economic affairs. But 60 years after independence, France is no longer the dominant power.

The decline began in the early 2000s and, over the last two decades, France has been stripped of its title as the continent’s leading supplier and investor.

While French exports to Africa have significantly increased, their overall value has halved between 2000 and 2021.

This is largely due to the surge in demand from African consumers, which has increased fourfold, and the emergence of new competitors.

China began eating into France’s market share in the early 2000s, and overtook it in 2007.

China now has 17 percent of the African market, three times more than France.

Shifting African partnerships

Five years ago, Germany overtook France as Europe’s leading supplier to Africa.

In terms of investment in the continent, the Netherlands is now in pole position, partly because many multinationals choose to register their headquarters there to benefit from lower corporate tax rates.

A closer look at France’s foreign trade figures reveals that its main African partners no longer come from the favoured French-speaking West African nations.

Those countries account for less than 1 percent of France’s market share.

France’s top African trading partners are Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, followed by English-speaking Nigeria and South Africa.

Sliding in the rankings

So why is anti-French sentiment growing in parts of West Africa when the French economic presence on the continent overall is slipping?

Although the west African region accounts for little of France’s foreign trade, France is still its leading European supplier.

More generally, accusations that France has too much control reflect multiple grievances that are not always related to the economy.

According to the annual AfricaLeads survey of African leaders conducted by the French employers’ association (Cian), France’s image is deteriorating year on year.

France ranks sixth in the list of most appreciated non-African countries, far behind the top three – the United States, Germany and Canada.

In the ranking of countries deemed most beneficial to Africa, France is ninth, just behind Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Once again the US, Canada and Germany are the top three.

Correcting the image deficit

France is undertaking a series of political initiatives to climb back up the rankings.

They include a summit on financing African economies during the Covid-19 pandemic and sending vaccines to the continent.

During the last Africa-France summit in Montpellier, the government targeted influencers and SMEs in the hope of getting new leaders of opinion on board.

French authorities are also organising regular meetings between French and African business leaders to strengthen economic ties.

Earlier this week they held the fourth edition of the Ambition Africa forum in Paris.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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