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Hopes for new initiatives on debt and finance at Africa summit hosted by Paris

First in-person conference on the pandemic's economic effects on the continent draws wide turnout

By bringing together 20 African presidents with IMF, World Bank and EU chiefs in Paris on 17-18 May, France's President Emmanuel Macron's declared aim was to launch a 'new deal' for Africa to take the response to the pandemic on the continent beyond debt relief (AC Vol 62 No 10, Emmanuel l'Africain II).

It's important for a couple of reasons: it's the first in-person summit on the economic impact of the pandemic on Africa, and it has also brought together a formidable group of political leaders across Africa and Europe with many of the banking and corporate leaders who take decisions on finance to the continent.

They include South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa, Ghana's Nana Addo Akufo-Addo, Côte d'Ivoire's Alassane Ouattara, Senegal's Macky Sall, Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari, Ethiopia's Sahle-Work Zewde, Mozambique's Filipe Nyusi and Angola's João Lourenço together with three prime ministers: Spain's Pedro Sanchez, Italy's Mario Draghi and Portugal's António Costa (AC Vol 62 No 4, France holds tight in the Sahel & Vol 62 No 9, Death on the front line, a coup, and then an about turn).

Also due to attend are the European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the EU Council's Charles Michel.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta are to join by video-link along with several high-level officials from the United States and Japan. But we hear there will be no high-level participants from China, which focusses the event on Africa's links with the big Western economies.

Among the hoped-for outcomes would a more imaginative approach to debt relief than the cautious measures backed by the Group of 20 chaired by Saudi Arabia last year.

Italy has taken over the G-20 chair this year and says there should be more radical measures to relieve debt. The group may try to pressure commercial banks to make concessions.

On the morning of 18 May, President Macron is due to meet with his counterparts Presidents Nyusi and Lourenço. France has big oil and banking interests in both countries. President Nyusi is to have a separate meeting with Total which is reviewing its involvement in the $20 billion gas project in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province after last month's insurgent attacks in the region.

President Ramaphosa is also to discuss the agenda for President Macron's visit to South Africa due later this month. The French government has told journalists that Macron will be adding a stopover in Rwanda en route for a diplomatically tricky visit to the country.

This comes in the wake of an official report by historian Vincent Duclert concluding that French officials bear 'heavy and overwhelming responsibility' for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Another complicating factor will be the new book Do Not Disturb by Michela Wrong, taken seriously by several senior Western officials, which accuses President Paul Kagame of planning assassinations against his opponents and heading an increasingly narrowly-based ruling clique.

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