African youth speak their truth directly to France’s Macron at the France summit

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The Africa-France summit in Montpellier started Friday with a number of separate discussions on democracy, development, the restitution of art, and sports.

The event culminated in a town hall style truth-telling as 11 African participants addressed President Emmanuel Macron on the centre stage in front of a mainly African audience.

“We have come to propose solutions and to dialogue with you because we have a different and more admirable future to propose,” Ateki Seta Caxton, a youth participant from the anglophone North West region of Cameroon, said.

“Not necessarily because we are going to be comfortable about what will change, but because at this point, it is the only thing that makes sense."

Caxton effectively set the tone for conversation with Macron in relation to the changes that need to be made in France's relationship with the African continent.

Kenyan civil society member Adele Onyango asked Macron to look at France’s troubled relationship with Africa, demanding an examination of inefficiencies, gaps in integrity, and unethical behaviour.

“We as Africans feel the pain of colonisation every single day,” Onyango said.

“The air of denial that France chooses to sit in is uncomfortable not only for Africa but also for France… How can you trust the source of your pain when the source doesn’t acknowledge it?” she added.

France's double standard

Onyango evoked what she considered France’s double standard—claiming to stand for human rights, while collaborating with agencies, leaders and individuals whose position on a wide range of societal issues in Africa is less than clear.

Although youth want to change this, “there are some who are benefiting from this current dysfunctional relationship—be it private businesses from France in the continent, with no ethical practices, or corrupt individuals from both France and Africa,” said Onyango.

While there were a number of delicate issues raised by a group of African youths, the most telling were the problems with the reportedly troubled French Agency for Development (AFD).

French Agency for Development

The AFD, which was the subject of a Mediapart online magazine investigation on the lack of transparency and alleged corruption, is nearing its 80th anniversary of existence.

It is now time for a number of changes, according to Burkinabé Eldaa Koama, a young internet entrepreneur.

“We want partnerships that are clear, transparent," she said, adding that the name needs to be changed, so as to move away from the 'development' position which evokes the image of an African continent populated by people living in misery that need saving.

Macron responded by saying that the name would be changed and agreed that some of the vocabulary used was demoralising. He added that France would not be offering development aid, but what he repeatedly called “solidarity investment.”

“Our objective is to accompany you more and more in your projects,” said Macron.

Other youth delegates called France out for its support for African dictators and criticised its military interventions.

However, the president pointed out that the military is only there at the request of African countries.

He denied that France supported dictators, telling one Guinean youth delegate that France had formally objected to the now-deposed Guinean president Alpha Condé’s run for a third term.

He also said he understood their position, saying that France has a big role to play, “an immense responsibility”.

France is a country, he said, that organized foreign trade and colonisation. It is not the only one, but it largely contributed. "So yes, we have to recognise this responsibility,” he added.

This is the reasoning behind the creation of an“Innovation Fund for Democracy in Africa”, with “independent governance”, as well as cultural initiatives.

The fund, which will receive 30 million euros over three years, is placed to help “agents of change”, focusing on governance and democracy.

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