Sarkozy backs stronger Africa role in global affairs
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday said it was time for Africa to have a stronger voice in global affairs as he opened a summit with 38 leaders in the Riviera city of Nice.
France is seeking to renew its ties with Africa at the two-day summit 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 said at the opening ceremony in a conference centre in central Nice.
"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.
Declaring that "Africa is our future", Sarkozy argued that it was time to stop sidelining African countries from international fora and pledged to back UN reform to give African nations more of a say.
With its rich resources, Africa will drive world economic growth for decades to come, he said.
"A failed Africa would be a tragedy for Europe," Sarkozy warned.
Giving Africa a strong voice in world governance is a key theme of the summit as France prepares to take the helm of the Group of Eight and Group of 20 clubs of rich economies next year.
South Africa is the only G20 member and France wants to broaden contacts with Africa within that economic club.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is co-chairing the summit, echoed Sarkozy's call.
"We want to end at all cost the marginalisation of the African continent, so that it can participate with a clear and strong voice in political and economic decision-making at the international level," said Mubarak.
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 the debate, France is proposing that Africa press for one permanent seat, with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stressing that it was important to be "realistic".
Among the 10 non-permanent member countries that sit on the UN Security Council on a rotating basis, there are three African countries, alongside the five veto-holding powers: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Many see that structure as a holdover from the Cold War and argue that Africa needs stronger representation given that 27 percent of UN member-states are on the continent.
"When there is a serious economic crisis in the world, we cannot continue to hold meetings without Africa and make decisions without Africa on behalf of the entire world," Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso said ahead of the summit.
"Africa cannot continue to be the fifth wheel and the Security Council cannot continue to be without Africa," he told France Info radio.
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.
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.
In a first, 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.
The Nice gathering has been touted as a "summit of renewal" and Sarkozy stressed that France needed to look to the future instead of "perpetuating the illusion of an outdated role."
© 2010 AFP