France wants to remain influential in Africa, particularly among its former colonies. In fact, on Dec. 4 French President Francois Hollande said he wants to double trade with the continent within the next five years, creating some 200,000 jobs in France in the process.
France has long been interested in Africa. By the beginning of the 20th century, it had extended its dominion to Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Benin, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic and the Republic of the Congo and several other countries. While its influence has waned since World War II, Paris maintains political, economic and military ties with many of its former colonies. Indeed, France still wants privileged access to Africa's raw materials, and it still keeps a military presence in some of the countries to protect its economic and political assets. Paris also wants to preserve its role as a major international player.
For Paris, maintaining and even enhancing influence in its former colonies in Africa makes sense. France has strong cultural ties with the continent, with some 100 million French speakers currently living there. Roughly four out of 10 immigrants in France come from African nations, mostly those of the Maghreb, and France is still a key destination for African students abroad. Moreover, French companies are active in several African markets, including the energy and consumer markets.
But France's designs in Africa may be too ambitious. Like many European economies, the French economy is faltering, so Paris may not have enough money to achieve its goals. French companies are not as competitive in these markets as they once were. Since France adopted the euro, labor costs have increased, and exports have become more expensive. Companies have also struggled to acquire loans. Moreover, France is facing stiffer competition from other countries, most notably China, which has become Africa's largest trading partner over the past decade.
Even if its trade presence is dropping, France will remain a significant political and economic player in Africa. But if its economy continues to flounder, it will continue to be challenged by other competitive nations.