While its political influence wanes, France looks to boost cultural presence in Africa

While its political influence wanes, France looks to boost cultural presence in Africa
French President Emmanuel Macron. (Photo: EPA-EFE / STEPHANE MAHE / POOL MAXPPP OUT)

The French government has taken steps to increase its influence in Africa through cultural exchange and cooperation. This comes amid the country’s waning trade and political standing in the continent.

French President Emmanuel Macron has attempted to debunk stereotypes about France’s influence in Africa, saying that it is not forced but rather an attempt to foster stronger ties.

He was speaking at a cocktail event in Paris on Friday following the first day of the Création Africa event, which saw creative entrepreneurs from around Africa gather under one roof to share their ideas and network with their French counterparts.

“I would like to speak to the narrative we would like to impose on relations between Africa and France. And for me, the reality of this relationship is exactly what you are, what we’re doing and the outposts we are building, contrary to the old narratives they’d like to write for us. So, thank you for making this promise possible, and for bringing it to fruition together. 

“Moreover, when we look at the African continent with traditional eyes, and as a traditional diplomatic approach, we used to put Africa in boxes — Portuguese-speaking Africa, English-speaking Africa and French-speaking Africa. Can you imagine that I was the first-ever president to set foot in Kenya? This opens up a lot of possibilities moving forward,” he said to dozens of attendees at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. 

West Africa, which was formerly colonised by France, has been the centre of change through coups, with citizens voicing their distrust of France. 

There have been demonstrations in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger against France’s presence in the region.

According to RFI, while French exports to Africa have significantly increased, their overall value halved between 2000 and 2021. The statistics also show that China surpassed France and has three times more of the market share at 17% of the African market.

France’s foreign trade figures reveal that its main African partners no longer come from the French-speaking West African nations, which now account for only 1% of France’s market share.

France’s top African trading partners are Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, followed by Nigeria and South Africa.

This is why France is now turning to arts and culture to spread its influence through what it has touted as an “equal partnership”.

Funding for creative industries

Senegalese director and screenwriter Peter Ayivor told Daily Maverick that a platform of this magnitude is important for creatives from his country, adding that, unlike France, the Senegalese government did not prioritise arts and culture industries.

He said that while there was a growing anti-French sentiment in the region, creatives are in dire need of funding.

“In Africa, we have a lot of creative people, but the biggest problem we have is that our government does not help us. In South Africa and Nigeria there is big development in movies and series but in Senegal and Ivory Coast … to get investment is very hard,” he lamented.

The three-day event was also attended by about 40 South African creatives, some of them from the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, an incubation hub which aims to create world-leading African digital entrepreneurs and actively identify emerging talent to create and grow digital ventures.

The chief executive of the digital lab, Lesley Donna Williams, said: “South African talent is recognised on the world stage, and what is really tough is that we do not have sufficient funding back home to invest in, and that is where Tshimologong has been able to attract international funding for development — and those who have been recipients have gone on to do incredible work around the world.”  

Williams said the benefits of creating a strong digital and arts economy were largely underestimated in South Africa, which made it hard to get sufficient backing.

“A lot of our digital content is moving abroad and it is not well known that South African creatives are often the service workers of the world, especially in the animation and video games industries. So, if we invest sufficiently locally, our creatives will not have to move abroad. When they do not go abroad they leave the industry and go to agencies and neighbouring industries.” DM 

Masuabi’s trip to Paris was hosted by the French Embassy.


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