Tough meeting with the Président de la République of France. He’s a tough guy. We like tough guys because they get straight down to business. They don’t waste their time or yours. The French budget is out this Friday and in it we will see if France intends continuing its leadership role on the continent of Africa. In the last few years, French aid has been falling.
My point was that as much as Africa needs French aid and the energy that Sarkozy himself provides, he/we need Africa. Why? Africa has never been so strategically important as it is now, economically and politically. Just ask the Chinese. Over a million of them now live in the continent of Africa – their single biggest diaspora. Every time you make a cell phone call you make it with the help of coltan, an African metallic ore. It’s a rich continent: zinc, copper, oil, gas, silver, gold, diamonds… Just for its resources Africa will play a critical role in how the 21st century is shaped. If we want to breathe we’re going to need African cooperation on climate change (Congo is the second biggest rainforest on earth.) Anyway, I tell you all this to point out that while there is a meltdown happening on the markets and in our banking systems, you FT readers should keep one eye on the opportunity of Africa. Seventeen non-oil rich countries have had growth rates averaging 5.5 per cent over the last 10 years, etc etc.
The other eye should be on our moral obligation not to break promises that we’ve made to the poorest of the poor, if we expect the respect and the business of those same populations in the future.
Sarko is a real physical presence in a room. He might even be taller than me… animated, funny one minute; annoyed the next. I admire his energy and vision. We need him. His radical proposal for a Mediterranean union is an example of his thinking differently, challenging orthodoxy. We want him to apply his innovativeness to the business of aid… its time for some new ideas. But he’s also going to have to fund them. And there’s the rub. He’s not averse. At one point in the meeting he reached across and grabbed my arm: “You know, Africa is Europe’s next door neighbour… 13 kilometres from us… our fate is bound up in theirs… it’s in our own self interest.” The meeting started with the beautiful Carla Bruni, a great ally in our efforts to better our storytelling about the effectiveness of good aid. Both the first lady and the president change the molecular structure of any room they are in – he speeds them up, she calms them down. A great team.
Off to meet the head honcho at the EU, President Barroso, now. Let you know tomorrow how I got on. Other things to watch out for this week: Wearing my ONE campaign hat, I should be meeting up with Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin; hoping to see Senator Obama and Senator Joe Biden in the next few weeks. The ONE campaign has an ongoing relationship with Senators McCain and Obama. Both have agreed that increased and effective aid is a critical part of American foreign policy in a world where inequality conjures instability and where making friends is a lot cheaper than defending yourself against new enemies.