By Emma Ujah, who was in Paris, France
Most French investors appear to have been caught napping over the massive investment opportunities in the African continent, especially in the last one decade when the region’s average growth rate was above 5 per cent. At that rate, the region was the world’s second fastest growing region, after Asia.
Realising that French investors would be left behind by other global investors if nothing was quickly done, the adminsitartion of President Francois Hollande, in collaboration with leading private sector operators of France, organized the French-African Economic Forum, in Paris, last week to call the attention of investors to the incredible opportunities in Africa and to mobilize them to take advantage of such opportunities.
Setting the tone in his opening remarks at the event which was attended by over 500 investors and key public functionaries, the French Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, said “the African ship is on sail and France must not miss that ship. “The African ship is on sail and France must not miss that ship. “
Realising that world powers like China had overtaken some of Africa’s traditional allies, Mr. Macron announced that the current French administration was working vigorously to ensure that trade between France and the region doubled in the next five years.
He said that several agencies of government, such as, Mouvement des entreprises de France (MEDEF), or the “Movement of the Enterprises of France”, French Agency for International Development, private sector operators and civil society organisations have been mobilized to realize this goal.
Speaking on the Nigerian economy, he said “I think the economy of Nigeria is resilient enough to weather, in the long run, the difficulties entailed by the sharp drop in oil prices. The economy is more and more diversified and the country can rely on other pillars than the oil sector. Moreover, there are numerous successful Nigerian entrepreneurs today in a capacity to create a lot of jobs and to foster growth in the country”.
On why French investors were interested in the Nigerian economy, he said, “Nigeria is the first economy in Africa by its GDP : growth is strong and steady, the purchasing power of households is on the rise and a large middle class of twenty-million people now exists. I think French companies are eager to support the development of Nigeria: they have a lot to share in the sectors of infrastructure building, consumer goods, energy and power and, of course, oil.
“Information technology is also a economic sector to develop and to invest in: I am confident that information technology is a key leverage for growth and development, with strong benefits in other sectors such as banking, education, or health. In France, there exist experienced IT companies that have developed state-of-the-art devices that could find a relevant use for the economy of Nigeria.
Today, more than fifty French companies are already operating in Nigeria: more will undoubtedly join them in the near future”. The president of the MEDEF, Mr. Pierre Gattaz, told French investors that France must not be left behind in the on-going economic revolution in Africa. His words, “As historical partners, we must not be left behind in what we see happening in Africa. We must take advantage of the long relationship and private companies must be part of this”.
“French people have not become aware of the great opportunities in Africa. No company can build its future growth strategy and ignore Africa.” He urged French companies in Africa and new investors to ensure that their presence brought to Africa a collaboration that would guarantee mutual prosperity and socio-economic development.
Mr. Gattaz noted that France had been in a long-term relationship with Africa which spanned several centuries and could not afford to adopt indifferent attitude to the region, more so that the current opportunities would benefit France and her people.