France wants to support digital transformation in Africa

Foreign trade – African tech ecosystem – Interview given by M. Franck Riester, Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to

Paris, 12 March 2021

Q. – The French President has often been regarded as the standard-bearer for the “startup nation”. How does this fostering of entrepreneurship and digital technology manifest itself in France’s policy of supporting the digital sector on the African continent?

THE MINISTER – Since his speech in Ouagadougou in 2017, the President has maintained a strong ambition to update our relationship with the African continent. Central to the project is innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa. It’s a challenge for the economic development of African countries, of course, but beyond that it’s also an opportunity to change the way our two continents look at each other. In Africa there’s a tech ecosystem brimming with talent, a rapidly-growing entrepreneurial fabric that only needs to be supported to continue its development: it’s also where the future of our relationship is being played out.

African entrepreneurship currently suffers from a significant lack of funding. We want to help remedy that. That’s the purpose of the Digital Africa initiative, which mobilizes resources from the AFD [French Development Agency] to support the growth of African tech: to date, €65 million has already been committed to a seed fund and venture-capital investments. It’s also the purpose of France’s Choose Africa initiative, which aims to roll out €3.5 billion to support the development of 16,000 African VSEs and SMEs by 2022.

In addition, we’ve supported the development of French Tech communities in six African cities: Abidjan, Cape Town, Nairobi, Dakar, Casablanca and Tunis. They’re committed on a daily basis to uniting and boosting their local ecosystems, they connect African and French startups and enable cooperation and projects to be built between the latter, thus helping develop local entrepreneurship.

Q. – In your view, what role should the digital sector play in France’s development aid policy in Africa?

THE MINISTER – There again, some ideas are hard to shake off, because in many respects the African continent is ahead of us, in particular in the ways digital technology is used. I’m thinking in particular of payment and banking via mobile phones, which has skyrocketed with the spread of smartphones, for example.

Digital technology is a powerful lever for development, capable of providing concrete opportunities for young people on the continent, and in particular young women.

That’s why we’ve made the digital transformation not only a vehicle for our development policy in Africa but also an end in itself. We’re convinced that innovation can support and speed up the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular in priority sectors for French aid like education, gender equality, health and the climate.

Q. – More generally, how does France’s economic diplomacy intend to follow on from the reinvention of the relationship with the continent?

THE MINISTER – On each of my visits to Africa – be they to Morocco, South Africa or soon Nigeria – I’ve reiterated our desire to go beyond history, borders and language barriers and build a new economic relationship based on an updated partnership, with special emphasis placed on the key sectors for the future: agriculture, sustainable cities, new technologies and health. On all these issues, we must give African countries the means to draw on their own strengths to build their future.

That requires forging long-term and mutually-beneficial economic partnerships with African countries. It also requires our businesses to be ever more exemplary and highlight even more what distinguishes them from their competitors: social and environmental responsibility fully taken on board, the involvement of African talent and the creation of local value. They must also venture to the countries where France has traditionally been less present but is nevertheless welcome and often long-awaited: I’m thinking of English-speaking Africa.

Q. – The multilateralism that will shape the world after [the pandemic] will be ecological and digital or nothing. What advice would you give businesses on both shores so they can take full advantage of what you might call Act Three of globalization?

THE MINISTER – Carry on forging professional ties, building industrial partnerships and investing on either side of the Mediterranean! You’re right: sustainable development and digitization are now central to our ambition for the French and European economy. They’re also priorities we promote for our international trade, in particular with Africa.

I’m also convinced that developing links between European and African value chains will help strengthen economic resilience for both continents. The post-Cotonou agreement and the modernization of the Economic Partnership Agreements already in place between the European Union and some African States all help deepen this key relationship between Europe and Africa. They’re all opportunities to further integrate digital technology, sustainable development, better access to procurement contracts, and the protection of investments and intellectual property into our trade. In the long term, it’s in our shared strategic interest to build a comprehensive trade agreement that brings our two continents together on the basis of even more intense trade. In this regard, we support the establishment of the AfCFTA, the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will ultimately establish a true African internal market.

They’re all priorities where we can move forward together for the sake of a fairer, more sustainable and more equitable globalization, which France strongly supports./.

Published on 17/03/2021

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