"It needs to be different than other summits". At the dawn of the New Africa-France Summit, while the night faded away in front of the Sud de France Arena, the Malian participant Demba Diabira could not hide his distrust. Because there have been enough "traditional" summits between the heads of state from France and Africa with no significant progress made.
But there was nothing of the sort in Montpellier. This time, no presidents were invited. Instead, African civil society filled the seats, led the debates, made presentations peppered with stats and personal experiences, concerning fields as new and diverse as sports, cultural and creative industries, business and innovation, governance, training and research.
Among the many issues discussed, the common denominator of Africa's present and future was its youth.
Why are sports essential?
On a continent where 60% of the population is younger than 24 years old, sports have become a major vector for growth and empowerment. From the temporary basketball court set up for the event, French president Emmanuel Macron reminded everyone why France is committed to sports in Africa: "This fits perfectly onto the new page we want to write with the continent: the mutual social investment in sports provides access to education, empowerment for young women and promotes economic development. Sports are a powerful vector for empowerment through which Africans can change their lives”.
Cheered by the crowd, the former NBA basketball champion Tony Parker, saw this summit as "an excellent initiative". Parker is invested in education through sports with his Adéquat Academy, which combines basketball, education and employment, particularly in Africa. For the president of the men's and women's ASVEL basketball club located in Lyon, "There is so much to do with Africa. We really need to work side by side in all areas". His sports academy will work with AFD in Angola on the inclusion of women in sports.
Essential support for culture
Cultural and creative industries (CCI) are also part of these sectors that have recently been added to the scope of social investment, as shown through the ambitious program for the Abomey palaces in Benin.
The social entrepreneur George Gashara was one of the first to invest in CCIs through his Heva Fund, which aims to support the artisanal and fashion sector in Kenya: "We have simple needs: long-term collaboration and investment in a genuine partnership-oriented mindset”.
For this young Ugandan entrepreneur who has received support from the Afrique Créative incubation program, the key is also in "developing more suitable, long-term partnerships over many years". "We need to invest in the human dimension and leave behind short-lived support that does not create a real cultural industry," he said, citing the support program Accès Culture.
Stronger partnerships for the private sector
"To begin with, we were allowed to come! Little people like us are normally not invited to this type of event,” said Ganda Jean Dominique Ouedraogo, head of programs for Mahna, a company in Burkina Faso that works to improve youth employability. But, continued the young entrepreneur, “this summit cannot just be a tool for communication. As civil society, we need to be able to participate now in the development of our countries”.
Émilie Kyedrebeogo, president of Palobdé Afrique, a sustainable cotton products company from Burkina Faso said: "What we want is an open mutually advantageous collaboration between French and African companies”.
For that to happen, said Burkinabe business development expert Ambroise Kientega, "Africa cannot continue its progress without involving businesses.
“What do we need? Remove a large number of barriers that hinder entrepreneurship, and especially support, be able to follow the example of models that have worked in the past and that we can duplicate, and scale up. We need to give ourselves the means to reveal our talents!”
Worth Knowing: The Montpellier summit was the ideal occasion to announce the launch of a new community of entrepreneurs meant to develop networking opportunities for African SMEs and VSBs. This initiative will facilitate discussions between private African players, put them in contact with international investors and strengthen connections between African players and the French economic ecosystem.
Encouraging and promoting talent is right up Astria Fataki's alley (pictured center in the photo below). She is president of Energy Generation, a pan-African organization that aims to train youth in the renewable energies industry. The organization has already trained entrepreneurs from 17 different African countries. "A Zambian man came to study for eighteen months at our center in Lomé, Togo," Astria Fataki said. He invented a wind-power pump – an energy source perfectly suited for Zambia – which he now sells to farmers, thus taking part in economic, agricultural and climate development”.
At the heart of the process: the youth and women
While it is central to the development of Africa, the private sector cannot do everything. Lætitia Helouet, President of the Club du 21e siècle, identified another area for change: "We also need to ask what we, the civil society, can offer in helping Africa to scale up. Our continent has a great number of young people who are talented, bold, impatient and optimistic and positive! This rejuvenation must go through them”.
And through youth like Élise Kaba Nongnyaghma, a programmer from Niamey, Niger. “We need to make sure that profiles like mine become the norm. We need to educate the young women of our countries", so that there can be more women like Élise to one day join the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel.
The challenges of governance
Governance also remains a sensitive subject for the summit's 3,000 participants. According to Maurice Thantan, member of l’Association des blogueurs du Bénin, "there is a real desire among the people to participate in the countries' governance, especially at a local level in townships on issues such as public procurement contracts and hygiene". In Benin, an experimental project in four municipalities was launched through an application called Participer. "This allowed citizens to submit their ideas to local elected officials on various important topics in daily life such as the water supply, playgrounds for children and the fixing of a school wall”.
During the long plenary meeting at the summit's closing, French President Emmanuel Macron fielded direct, candid questions from 11 young "gems" from Africa assembled around the Cameroonian intellectual Achille Mbembe. Taking time to address the questions one by one, the President ended by saying: "We need to make sure that what we've started here is unstoppable. We owe it to Africa and its youth!"
Seated up in the stands of the arena, his head still shaking from the performance of the Chadian AfrotroniX who provided a stand-out performance in the afternoon, Demba Diabira had to smile: clearly, Montpellier was not like other summits.