The UK works with a range of international partners in formulating and delivering its Africa policy. But, since 1998, we have placed special emphasis on co-operation with France.
Britain and France share a long history of engagement in Africa. We have, at points in this history, been direct competitors. But our agenda in Africa today is a shared one: to promote conflict prevention, management and resolution; to encourage good political and economic governance; to combat poverty and help create the conditions for lasting prosperity.
Together, France and Britain have resident missions in all African countries except Somalia, Liberia and Sao Tome and Principe. We are both permanent members of the UN Security Council, which spends up to two-thirds of its time on Africa. We are both influential members of the EU, with its important aid and trade links with Africa under the Cotonou Agreement; and its participation in the Africa-Europe Dialogue, begun in Cairo in 2000. And we are both active in the G8's response to the New Partnership for Africa's Development, set out in the Africa Action Plan agreed at the 2002 G8 Summit. In these, and a range of other international organisations, Britain and France working together on Africa can make a significant contribution to the international effort
As Africa pursues greater regional integration, strengthening the role of its sub-regional economic communities and agreeing the shape and role of the new African Union (AU), there is also a special role for the UK and France to play in supporting new networks of anglophone and francophone countries.
What was agreed at St Malo?
At the St Malo Summit in 1998, the UK and France agreed to harmonise policies towards Africa and to intensify co-operation on the ground. A series of practical initiatives were agreed. These included the exchange of information between capitals and between local embassies; joint Franco-British Africa Heads of Mission conferences and a joint visit by Foreign Ministers.
In March 1999, Robin Cook (then Foreign Secretary) and Hubert Vedrine (then French Foreign Minister) made a successful joint visit to Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. The first joint Heads of Mission conference was held in Abidjan during this visit. A joint peacekeeping training initiative was launched in West Africa in July 1999, and a joint map exercise took place in November 2000. Embassies in Africa and the two Foreign Ministries began to intensify their exchange of information and analysis.
At the Cahors Summit in February 2001, the Prime Minister and President Chirac reaffirmed their strong commitment to continuing this co-operation, highlighting areas such as their joint response to initiatives for a new Partnership with Africa, and efforts to reduce conflict in Africa. Further practical measures for co-operation were agreed at Cahors, including joint ships visits and annual secondments of personnel between the Quai d'Orsay (French Ministry for Foreign Affairs) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Africa departments.
What has this meant in practice?
‘St Malo’ co-operation takes a number of forms. Following the joint visit by Robin Cook and Hubert Vedrine in 1999, the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, and the French Minister for Development Co-operation, visited Sierra Leone together in April 2001.
The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and Hubert Vedrine also visited the Great Lakes together in January 2002. This three-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi was a significant demonstration of British and French determination to bring their approach closer together, in an area where there have been policy differences in the past. Speaking after the visit both Foreign Ministers agreed that the visit sent a powerful signal to the key players in the region of our joint commitment to drive the Lusaka Peace Process forward. Leaders in the region welcomed this demonstration of closer French/UK co-operation.
A regular pattern of joint seminars has been set up by research and planning staff. The Department for International Development is intensifying its dialogue on development policy with counterparts in the French Administration. And joint naval visits are a further visible sign of increased co-operation. One such visit to Mauritius, in July 2001 led to an intensive week of joint activity with political, cultural, sporting, historical, environmental and community dimensions.
St Malo: A personal viewpoint
Jean Christophe Tallard-Fleury is the second secondee from the Quai d'Orsay to work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Africa Command. He has been head of the West Africa section since September 2001.
‘ Being a Frenchman working for Her Majesty The Queen is a challenging experience! But it helps to reduce the differences due to our respective cultural approaches, working methods and historical background. My general impression is that it will take time to fill the gap, but the French and the British have a clear agenda in Africa: reduce poverty, improve human rights and international stability. I was surprised how close we are on our objectives and commitments.’