Africa needs a stronger voice in global affairs: Sarkozy

31st May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Africa will fuel world economic growth for decades to come and must have a stronger voice in global affairs, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday as he opened an Africa-France summit.

France is seeking to renew its ties with Africa at the two-day gathering that will touch on global governance and Africa's campaign for more of say at the United Nations Security Council, the UN's top decision-making body.

"I am deeply convinced that it is no longer possible to discuss major world issues without the presence of Africa," Sarkozy told the 38 African leaders gathered in the Riviera city of Nice.

Declaring that "Africa is our future", Sarkozy said it was "absolutely abnormal" that no African country held a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.

"None of the problems, absolutely none of the problems that the world faces today can be resolved without the active participation of the African continent," he said.

"Africa's formidable demographics and its considerable resources make it the main reservoir for world economic growth in the decades to come.

"A failed Africa would be a tragedy for Europe," Sarkozy warned.

France is hoping to jumpstart the push for more African representation at the Security Council, where three of the 10 rotating seats are currently held by African countries.

Sarkozy said he will put forward proposals when France takes the helm of the Group of Eight and Group of 20 clubs of developed nations next year to ensure Africa takes part in global economic affairs.

Currently, South Africa is the only G20 member from Africa even though the continent overall is posting strong growth, despite the global downturn.

African countries have since 2005 sought two veto-wielding permanent seats in an expanded Security Council as well as two non-permanent seats, but these calls have gone unheard.

Hoping to relaunch debate, France is proposing that Africa press for one permanent seat, with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stressing that it was important to be "realistic".

Many see the current setup in which five countries -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- hold veto power as a holdover from the Cold War.

Echoing Sarkozy's call, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said "we want to end at all cost the marginalisation of the African continent."

The 25th Africa-France summit is Sarkozy's first since taking office in 2007 and reflects France's shift away from its traditional west African allies toward engagement with the continent as a whole.

At a formal dinner, Sarkozy stressed that the time when Africa's political problems dominated the summit agenda was over and that the economy was now at the forefront.

"Today we can talk about technology, innovation and research with Africa," said Sarkozy.

About 80 French business leaders including top bosses at oil giant Total and nuclear behemoth Areva are taking part in summit talks along with 150 heads of African companies.

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.

Among the heavy hitters at the high-level talks are South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, who travelled to Nice just weeks before his country hosts the football World Cup, and Nigeria's new leader Goodluck Jonathan, sworn in this month.

Zuma hit a sour note when he criticised host-country France for inviting coup leaders from Guinea and Niger to the summit, saying it amounted to a form of recognition to those who seize power through coups.

"We don't want to encourage military people to overturn others and become governments, because by inviting, it means recognition, that's how we are interpreting it in the continent," he told French news channel France 24.

© 2010 AFP

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