France has launched an economic diplomatic initiative with African countries, aimed at combating youth unemployment through the creation of five million jobs yearly as recommended by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
The initiative, named the French-African Foundation, is one of the outcomes of the 7th Joint Annual Meetings of the African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development which ended in Abuja on Sunday.
The secretariat of the foundation will be located in Nigeria and will be dedicated to embody and support the renewal of the economic relations between France and Africa.
French Minister of Economics and Finance, Mr. Pierre Moscovici, announced the initiative on the sidelines of the joint UNECA/African Union Conference in Abuja to the excitement of the Nigerian Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has been battling to clear the backlog of the 5.3 million unemployed youths in Nigeria but has managed to close the nation’s yearly job requirement of 1.8 million gaps with creation of 1.6 million jobs last year, according to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics.
Specifically, the Foundation, which would be public- and private-sector driven, will see to the upgrade in the human capital of young Africans through capacity building and training in specialized skills that would promote self-sustenance in job creation by the youths to shift emphasis from job seeking.
Opportunities are to be opened for both Africans at home and in diaspora.
According to Mr. Moscovici, the initiative is one of the 15 proposals for a new economic dynamism between Africa and France, submitted to his ministry in December last year.
The recommendation for economy to be the heart of a partnership relationship between France and Africa immediately received the blessings of French President, Mr. Francois Hollande, who approved a total of 3 million Euros budgetary allocation for the take-off of the Foundation.
Mr. Hollande also promised to attract funding to the Foundation from French private sector organizations, Civil Society Organisations as well as French development agencies.
Moscovici added that “a month ago, the French President was in Abuja to attend the Nigerian Centenary celebration and found that Nigeria’s growth rate is at 7 per cent, higher than average growth rate in Africa. France is already taking certain arrangements to work with Africa.”
He said: “We are committed to extend our role here as Nigeria has indicated interest to partner with France. I am convinced that industry, through investment, is the future of Africa, that Africa is the continent of the future. We are here to increase our investment in Nigeria. This is our vision.
“Although, it requires a new type of relationship between France and Africa, there are many French companies in Nigeria operating in this platform. My visit to Abuja is a follow up to our meeting with a Nigerian delegation in Paris.
“We have come to highlight Africa’s unending vitality and redefine the future of Africa. Africa has done remarkable job. They have shown tangible commitment to the future partnership through several initiatives. One of those initiatives is the creation of the Franco-African Foundation for Growth, which will be led by Lionel Zinsou.
“The partnership, a public private and French-African initiative, will focus on vocational training and technology sharing. It will focus on valuation where we will devote resources on human capital development, promote understanding and economic relationships between Africa and France, encouraging direct link between businesses and contacts for entrepreneurs.
“It is a very ambitious project, which we attach with high importance. I am happy with the new foundation and I hope with the support of Nigeria, it will succeed. I am convinced that it will make our relationship between France and Nigeria strong and more resourceful to each other and will make us redefine the future of our investment better as we move along in life through our technology, human resource and the friendship we share.”
Responding, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala expressed delight at the development, saying it would definitely assist Nigeria in particular and Africa as a whole in the continent’s human capital upgrade challenges.
Said the Nigerian Minister, “as you know, France’s place in Africa is such an important one and is among the three largest investors in Africa and in Nigeria as well. France is the second largest donor for aids within the country. And many French companies are present here and of course in all the Francophone countries in Africa.
“But we are here today because France has decided to launch a completely new relationship with Africa, relationship based on partnership, on trade, on respect and investment.
“We will engage Africans in the Diaspora in this training as well as Africans at home. I think this is a good way to really solidify the relationship between France and Africa. The important point is that France has joined the boat of investment in Africa as the boat for investment in Africa is leaving.”
In his remarks, Mr. Zinsou said that the Foundation which he leads “is far more about building human capacity, encouraging young leaders, focusing on human relations and mainly on professional training.
“To me, Africa is faster in terms of growth. We imagine what will happen when Nigeria have full power supply. We are concerned on how we can encourage corporations. The priority is on human capital, how to train young people and accelerate economic growth.”