President Emmanuel Macron will host a conference on Africa on Friday billed as a summit but with no other leaders attending, as he aims to readjust France’s relationship with the continent.
Instead of other heads of state and premiers, Macron is inviting hundreds of young businesspeople, artists and sporting figures to the southern city of Montpellier.
The aim is “to listen to the words of African youth” and “to leave behind obsolete formulas and frameworks”, said a French presidential official who asked not to be named.
The meeting comes at a delicate moment between France and many of its former colonies in French-speaking Africa, as a row rumbles on over a decision to cut visas to citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
Algeria recalled its ambassador after Macron reportedly said the country was ruled by a “political-military system”, while tensions have erupted between France and Mali over plans to deploy Russian mercenaries as part of an anti-jihadist fight.
The new format hints at the frustration felt by France, which has held summits with African leaders since 1973, with the political leadership of some countries.
Roughly 3,000 participants including more than 1,000 young people are expected in Montpellier for discussions on economic, cultural and political issues.
Macron is set to debate with a panel of young people chosen after months of dialogue led by the Cameroon intellectual Achille Mbembe, who is in charge of preparing the meeting.
“Subjects that cause anger will be on the table,” the French presidential official said, adding that “the current political context makes the discussion particularly sensitive”.
French officials are promising concrete proposals from a report that Mbembe is to submit to Macron on Tuesday.