French President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday hosted African leaders and global financial institutions for a summit seeking to provide Africa with critical financing after the Covid-19 pandemic depleted the continent's coffers.
Africa has so far been less badly hit by the pandemic than other global regions -- with a total of 130,000 dead across the continent, compared with 3.4 million worldwide.
But the economic cost is only too apparent, with the International Monetary Fund warning in late 2020 that Africa faces a shortfall in the funds needed for future development -- a financial gap of $290 billion up to 2023.
While richer countries are running major economic recovery programmes, Africa "does not have the financial means today to relaunch its economy," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RFI radio.
He warned against the risk of a "great economic divergence between Africa, which would go backwards, while the United States, Europe and Asia recover strongly".
A moratorium on the service of public debt agreed in April last year by the G20 and the Paris Club, a group of creditor countries that tries to find sustainable solutions for debtor nations, was welcomed but will not be enough.
Many want a moratorium on the service of all external debt until the end of the pandemic.
"We are collectively in the process of abandoning Africa by using solutions that date from the 1960s," Macron said last month, warning that failure would lead to reduced economic opportunity, sudden migration flows and even the expansion of terrorism.
International financial leaders attending include IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank managing director of operations Axel van Trotsenburg.
The summit, which got under way at 1100 GMT, is to wind up with a 1600 GMT press conference with Macron and Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, whose country holds the rotating African Union presidency, as well as Senegal President Macky Sall and Georgieva.
- 'New, cheaper, longer' -
Serge Ekue, the president of the West African Development Bank (BOAD), told AFP that Africa needed much longer loan maturities going beyond seven years and interest rates of 3.0 percent rather than 6.0 percent.
"In West Africa, the average age is 20. You walk in (Ivory Coast's economic capital) Abidjan and there is incredible energy," he said, noting that Africa had seen growth rates of five to six percent in the last years.
"The issue is therefore not so much a moratorium as obtaining low rates. Because it is better to issue new, cheaper and longer debt than to obtain a suspension," he said.
Togo President Faure Gnassingbe announced that his country had secured an additional $240 million package from the IMF.
The summit comes a day after a conference on Monday attended by several heads of state that aimed to rally support for the Sudan government under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in the transition after the 2019 ouster of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir.
Macron notably announced that France would cancel almost $5 billion in debt owed by Khartoum in order to help a transition he described as an "inspiration".
Both meetings, held in a temporary exhibition centre under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, are a chance for Macron to show himself as a statesman on Africa whose influence goes beyond the continent's francophone regions.
More than two dozen African heads of state are attending Tuesday's summit, one of the biggest in-person top-level meetings held during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Other key figures attending include South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Rwandan, Egyptian and Mozambican counterparts Paul Kagame, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Filipe Nyusi.
A French presidential official said Macron and Nyusi, whose country is battling a bloody Islamist insurrection in its north, would hold a bilateral meeting Tuesday.
The official said the summit would also be a chance for the international community to coordinate efforts to help Mozambique.
Le Maire said funding was needed to finance anti-terror campaigns, particularly important as "the epicentre of terrorism has moved from the Middle East".