The French economy in decline on the African continent

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After Mali, it is now in Burkina Faso that “ France’s takeover is denounced in the street or by opinion leaders. The former colonial power is regularly accused of plundering Africa at a time when its economic presence is shrinking.

Almost one in three African countries has been, at some point in its history, under the yoke of France. This leaves traces in cultural, military and of course economic terms. But on this level, sixty years after independence, France is no longer the dominant power at all. Its decline has been significant since the early 2000s. In 20 years, it has been stripped of its title as the continent’s leading supplier, then the continent’s leading investor. In value, French exports to Africa have increased sharply. But their relative weight has been halved, dropping from 12% to 5% between 2000 and 2021. This dilution is due to the explosion in demand from Africans, it has been multiplied by four; and the emergence of new competitors. Since the beginning of the 2000s, China has been nibbling away at new market shares, dethroning France in 2007. China now claims 17% of the continental market, three times more than France.

France is no longer even the leading European supplier to the African continent

Germany has now been in first place for five years. For investments, it is the Netherlands. Many foreign multinationals have a Dutch headquarters to reduce their taxes, which partly explains the good ranking of this country. Looking more closely at France’s foreign trade figures, we discover that its main African partners no longer come from what used to be called the pre-square of French-speaking West Africa. Of the 5% French market share, these countries weigh less than 1%. None of them are among France’s leading African trading partners. Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are in the top three, followed by two English-speaking countries, Nigeria and South Africa.

Why this lawsuit against France in this region at a time when its economic presence is fading?

It is a question of perspective. If these countries count for little in France’s foreign trade, it remains an omnipresent partner for them, since it is still their first European supplier. More generally, the accusations are based on feelings and cover many grievances, not always related to the economy. This accumulation of resentment undermines the reputation of the former colonial power. According to the annual survey carried out by French employers among African leaders, the image of France is deteriorating from year to year. France is only seventh in the ranking of the most popular non-African countries, far behind the top three, the United States, Germany and Canada. In the ranking of countries deemed the most beneficial for Africa, France is only ninth, overtaken by Turkey or the United Arab Emirates in the latest edition of the survey.

How are the French public authorities trying to remedy these deficits in terms of images and trade?

With a whole series of political initiatives whose effects are difficult to measure to date. Like the summit on the financing of African economies during Covid-19, or even the shipment of vaccines. At the last Africa-France summit in Montpellier, the government targeted influencers and SMEs in the hope of convincing new opinion leaders. In addition, the public authorities organize regular meetings between French and African business leaders to strengthen economic ties. This is the mission of the forum Ambition Africa. The fourth edition begins today, in Paris, at the Ministry of Finance.

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