France strives to keep African influence at Paris summit
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"The world is in mourning" for Nelson Mandela, French President François Hollande told a summit on peace and security in Africa as it opened on Friday. Over 50 representatives of African countries will discuss conflict resolution and Hollande will try to convince them to keep doing business with France.
The Elysée presidential palace's flag was at half-mast as Hollande welcomed 53 representatives of African countries to the summit on Friday afternoon.
The president was due to deliver a tribute to Mandela, whose funeral is to be on 15 December at his ancestral home, at the opening of the summit to be folllowed by South African Foreign Affairs Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
Top of the list is Libya, the scene of a previous international intervention that is now the source of concern thanks to its 4,000 kilometres of porous border with six troubled African countries.
Jihadi groups and rebel movements use the south of the country, which is largely out of government control, as a base and armed groups driven out of Mali by the French-led offensive have taken refuge there.
Algeria claimed that the attackers in January's hostage-taking at the Amenas gas plant came over the border, while Niger says that perpetrators of a double attack in its capital, Agadez.
"Libya is a real sieve and nobody controls anything in Libya," sources close to Hollande have told RFI.
France may support bilateral initiatives to strengthen control of the borders, although current proposals that the European Union train border guards and that France train Libyan police are regarded as insufficient to accomplish the task.
Paris hopes that an EU defence summit on 19-20 December will discuss the question.
The several insurgencies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were also set to be discussed.
France fears that concentration on the successful battle against the M23 movement have allowed the dozens of other armed groups active in the country to extend their influence in the east and in the mineral-rich province of Katanga.
In Rutshuru, part of which was controlled by the M23, seven other armed groups are still fighting.
The defeat of the M23 has, however, shown that the DRC army is capable of waging a significant offensive and been a welcome success story for the UN force, Monusco.
After the summit closes on Saturday afternoon a mini-summit on the CAR will take place.
The Elysée has billed the summit as a new French relationship with Africa , turning the page on the Françafrique policy that propped up dubious regimes in for the sake of France's strategic and economic interests.
That doesn't mean that Paris wants to stop doing business, however, and new economic actors on the continent are forcing French businesses to fight their corner as nver before.
France's share of the market in sub-Saharan Africa has shrunk from 10.1 per cent in 2000 to 4.7 per cent in 2011, according to a repoort of experts headed by former foreign affairs minister Hubert Védrine, although the value of French exports have doubled over that period.
"Economic diplomacy" is the new watchword fo the foreign affairs ministry, as companies like Bolloré, Total, Orange or Dassault face stiffer competion than ever.
Dubai Port World has won the contract for the port at Dakar, China's ZTE and Sinopec are in South Africa and Angola, Brazil's Embraer is selling airplanes to Burkina Faso and Mauritania, Indonesia's Olam is producing palm oil in Gabon and Côte d'Ivoire and India's Barthi has bought up Kuwait's Zain to become a major mobile telephone operator on the continent.
On Wednesday Hollande met 560 French and African business leaders, along with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, Senegal's Macky Sall and Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete at the finance ministry to discuss a new Franco-African economic partnership.
"Now"s the moment to get on board the boat of African growth," warned Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonio-Iweala, "or it will leave without you."
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