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A watershed moment in Franco-South African relations

By Olivier Brochenin

This year is an important one for the bilateral relationship between France and South Africa. In 2011 France has assumed a double presidency of the G8 and G20, South Africa has been accepted as a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council and Durban will host COP 17, where the international community will attempt to tackle climate change. It is in this context that we can look forward to a year of collaboration on issues of mutual interest. The state visit to be undertaken by Jacob Zuma on March 2 and 3 will contribute to the climate of cooperation and also provide the two countries with a clear indication of our joint objectives for the coming period.

The value of a state visit cannot be solely measured by the declarations and agreements, it is symbolic and a powerful indication of the relationship between allies. For two days the South African flag will fly throughout Paris and President Zuma will be welcomed as guest of honour at a gala dinner hosted at the Palace Elysée. These icons of friendship, occurring at an early stage in such an important year, will underline the role that France and South Africa hope to play together over the coming months.

That is not to understate the significance of the agreements that will no doubt be signed in Paris, there will certainly be important declarations that emerge as a result of the visit, which will guide the nature of the bilateral relationship for the next few years.

South Africa is the only African member of the G20 and as such will play an important role for France’s presidency of the group. Since its establishment in 1999 the G20 has played an active role in setting the agenda of financial reform. In this context, South Africa has been appointed as a co-chair, along with South Korea and France, of the sub-group on development. It is therefore imperative that South Africa and France seize the opportunity in 2011 to develop a close and easy dialogue.

Foreign direct investment has emerged as an important part of the development plans of both France and South Africa. As such there has been a steady increase in the number of French firms present in South Africa. Today 200 French companies have offices in South Africa, employing nearly 30 000 people in industries from automobiles to pharmaceuticals and construction. The interaction between the French and South African private sectors highlight the close nature of the bilateral relationship between the two countries (a delegation of 80 business people will accompany President Zuma to France) and is indicative of a long-term commitment on both sides to foster close economic ties. In addition, the French Agency for Development has committed €1 billion to South Africa over the next three years. This follows the agency providing €1.3 billion in project support since 1994 and indicates the level of commitment to South Africa’s developmental objectives.

The importance of 2011 can thus not be overlooked and I look forward to looking back on this year as a watershed moment in Franco-South African relations. Through our close and prolonged cooperation on a number of issues across several topics and in different arenas we will have the chance to develop close personal relations at all levels of government and indeed within the private sector. I am therefore excited for this year and I anticipate a fruitful exchange of ideas and opinions as we move towards the achievement of our shared objectives.

Olivier Brochenin is the deputy head of mission at the Embassy of France in South Africa.


  • Philippe Orliange and Cecile Vigneau are career diplomats. Philippe currently holds the position of deputy head of mission at the French Embassy in Pretoria. Cecile is first secretary in charge of following South Africa’s foreign policy. She also heads the press section of the embassy. The French Embassy wants to take the opportunity provided by Thought Leader to share France’s views on topical issues that can be of interest to other bloggers.