, PARIS, Dec 4 – A sign of the times? Nigeria’s finance minister rolled into Paris on Wednesday and raised a laugh by warning France it was in danger of “missing the boat” in Africa.
Addressing a Franco-African conference of ministers and business leaders from across the continent, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said a decade of growth meant Africa no longer had to rely on the former colonial powers as trade and investment partners.
Responding to an address by French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, Okonjo-Iweala said: “Mr Moscovici said in his speech ‘we need Africa’ and this is a very important statement for Africans to digest.”
To titters in the audience, she added: “It is true that Africa has many suitors now. And it is true that our traditional partners like France, whom we will not forget, may have to work a little harder to persuade us to work with them on investments on the continent.”
Economic growth across Africa has exceeded five percent per year for the last 10 years and the expansion has been accompanied by growing economic links between the continent and China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies.
France, a major colonial power in Africa until the 1960s, has suffered in the shifting economic sands, losing market share across the region.
France nevertheless retains significant political influence and is a major player in African security, which is the theme for a meeting between President Francois Hollande and 40 African leaders in Paris on Friday and Saturday.
Moscovici said France needed a new mutually beneficial economic relationship with Africa.
“We have to speak the language of truth: African growth pulls us along, its dynamism supports us and its vitality is stimulating for us,” he said at the opening of the economic conference. “We need Africa.”
The Nigerian minister said it was high time French companies started recognising that and appealed to them to take more interest in the process of privatisation in the energy and transport sectors now underway in her country and elsewhere in Africa.
“We need private equity in our infrastructure, we need private capital,” she said.
“This is the time for the French private sector to begin to get in. Those who are not already in, you must start now. Because my word to you is, if you miss the boat now, if you are not in Africa now, let me say it again, if you are not in Africa now, you are missing the opportunity of a lifetime.”