Resource-rich Africa needs a stronger voice: Sarkozy

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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 a France-Africa 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 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.

"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 campaign for more African representation in an expanded Security Council, where there are currently three rotating seats set aside for 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.

The continent is on track to post growth of between 5.5 and 6.0 percent this year, according to the African Development Bank.

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

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.

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.

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."

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.

© 2010 AFP

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