At a specially erected conference facility within the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, President Emmanuel Macron is hosting a summit on Tuesday of two dozen African leaders. Their agenda is topped by economic recovery from the COVID pandemic.
The meeting, which will include international economic groupings, is unashamedly a French bid to solidify and broaden relations with African nations.
Macron wants to move beyond the former French colonies to countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
It takes place against a backdrop of waning French public support for France’s gendarme role in Africa and leaders of the continent questioning the value of a series of summit meetings with Western development partners.
Nevertheless they will fly to Paris – the only Western capital from which large quantities of COVID vaccine have been shipped by a donor country to developing countries.
In week where we learn that 140 million doses of that vaccine supposed to go to the poorer countries via the COVAX programme will be retained to deal with India’s surge of infections, the summit participants know they will be talking to representatives of the largest vaccine financiers.
The summit will see a rare visit to France by Rwandan President Paul Kagame. This means the still smoldering issue of France’s role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is unavoidable.
Important as it is, other African leaders will also want to move beyond making up the $300-billion shortfall caused by the pandemic.
They want to leave the summit with heartening news for their people about addressing critical shortfalls in potable water, schools and healthcare facilities.
Even though the leaders of countries with which France has active disputes, such as Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso have not been invited, Macron cannot expect to escape pointed question about colonial legacies like the Central African franc, which Africans say binds currencies of former dependencies too tightly to the French economy.