Thursday, 9 July 2015

Keeping up relations

This month, two Western powers, the United States and France, are trying to remind Africa that it hasn’t been totally left out of their calculations. On 20 July, US President Barack Obama is to welcome Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari to Washington DC (see Pointer, The clock ticks faster) and just days later, he jets off to Addis Ababa and Nairobi, where he will meet Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President Uhuru Kenyatta. Growing insecurity is on the agenda but Obama also wants to address longer-term growth.

US oil and gas imports from Africa have almost stopped due to its use of fracking technology to produce more energy locally. China, the world’s biggest market for oil and gas, pushed up its trade with Africa to US$222 billion last year. That’s over three times the level of US-Africa trade. The more adventurous US officials and companies are looking for ways into Africa’s retail and agricultural markets but few have found ways to build on the unexpectedly popular Africa summit that Obama hosted in Washington a year ago.

France, whose President François Hollande swung through Benin, Angola and Cameroon last week, looks equally stuck in the past. The Parisian daily l’Opinion described the mini-tour as ‘La nouvelle Françafrique de Hollande’. France’s economy still benefits critically from its skewed trading relations with its former colonies in Africa and its backing for the two CFA currency zones there which compel the member governments to keep a substantial part of their foreign reserves in Paris.

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