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Young Africans at the Africa-France summit express hopes for future relations

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Sarah Meyssonnier/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved


Coming from at least 12 countries on the continent, young Africans have expressed their expectations and their frustrations on democracy and the relationship with France, during an unprecedented summit in Montpellier that prioritized the word of civil society.

They come from Burkina Faso, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco... and they have a lot to say to France, concerning the colonial heritage, the visa policy or development aid. 

From the opening of the summit on Friday morning, to which some 3,000 people were invited, the round table "Citizen Engagement and Democracy" attracted many spectators and speakers.

"We hope that Montpellier will be a new beginning. Let us listen to the African field, the African youth, it has things to say to the world and to France," said Bakary Sambe, director of the Timbuktu Institute.

No head of state of the continent has been invited to this summit, which is held in a delicate context while the influence of France in its former pre-square is increasingly disputed, particularly by Russia, and Paris is in open crisis with two of its former colonies, Mali and Algeria.

Referring to the recent decision of Paris to drastically reduce the number of visas for Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians, Mehdi Alioua, a professor of Political Science in Rabat, deplored what he described as "collective punishment". Alioua to the applause of the audience denounced the visa policy as a "system of humiliation (and) vexation".

Also, the issue of mobility remains a very important concern of African youth, who have not seen the promises of President Emmanuel Macron materialize, four years after his speech in Ouagadougou.

Another subject that was discussed a lot was the state of democracy on the African continent, and the "French interference".

"We are stuck between a condescending Western discourse that wants to educate Africans and a discourse of our governments saying that Westerners want to impose their values," said Habiba Issa Moussa, a young student from the University of Aix-Marseille, of Nigerian origin.

"We must rethink governance in Africa and not copy and paste the European model of governance," said Clément Dako, a Malian, pleading for "Africa to have its own democratic path.

"The essential issues here are not entrepreneurship or sports - largely discussed at the summit in Montpellier, editor's note - it is politics!" launched for her part the Burkinabe Sibila Saminatou Ouedraogo, criticizing "the relationship of dependence" of Africa to France.

- Doubts -

In the afternoon, President Macron was to debate with a panel of twelve young African women, selected at the end of dialogues conducted for months across the continent by the Cameroonian intellectual Achille Mbembe, charged with preparing the summit.

"I would really like to believe in it," David Maenda Kithoko, a political refugee from the DRC in France, told AFP. "But I have many doubts. Concerning the relationship between France and Africa, there are a lot of big words on the one hand, and a lack of courage on the other," lamented the young activist, who is calling for recognition of mining "ecocides" in his country. "I would like that France engages in a frontal way on this subject, but French companies as Total profit from the mining", he reminded.

In his report, submitted to the French president on Tuesday, Achille Mbembe believes that France is too disconnected "from new movements and political and cultural experiments" carried by the continent's youth.

At the end of the summit, the French president, who is likely to run for re-election in seven months, could make general announcements based on Achille Mbembe's proposals. Among them, the creation of a fund to support initiatives to promote democracy, programs allowing greater student mobility, or the establishment of a "Euro-African forum on migration".

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