On Monday, France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced his plans to take a 4-nation trip to Africa, in light of growing anti-French sentiments in some of France’s former colonies.
He hopes to reassert the country’s influence on the continent, especially in Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola, where he will be visiting.
Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon are former French colonies, while Angola is a former Portuguese colony and DRC is a former Belgian colony.
Macron will arrive in Gabon on Wednesday to attend the One Forest Summit before heading to Angola on Thursday, as part of France’s drive to boost relations with English- and Portuguese-speaking Africa.
On Friday, he will be at Congo-Brazzaville and then end his trip with a visit to neighbouring DRC on Saturday.
In his address at the presidential palace in Paris, Macron spoke on France’s need to show a “profound humility” in Africa, rather than give “lectures” to its African partners.
“France’s role is not to fix all the problems in Africa”, he said.
Macron also mentioned the country’s plans to significantly reduce their military presence in Africa. Instead of hosting regular military bases on the continent, France will establish academies which will be co-run by French and African armies.
Macron emphasised that the reduction in military presence would not be a withdrawal, but rather a “reorganisation”.
He expressed his pride in France’s military presence in Mali, its former colony. He assured the public that he would not allow the West African country to become a “scapegoat” of the insecurity in the Sahel region, where violent extremist groups have gained ground as a result of France’s waning influence.
He went on to share his hopes for increased economic and business relations with the continent, particularly by fostering small businesses and entrepreneurship, thereby spurring a “new generation of French-African entrepreneurs”.
The trip is aimed at countering growing Chinese and Russian influence in the continent.
Macron described the Russian paramilitary Wagner group, which has been deployed in the Central African Republic, as the “life insurance of failing regimes and putschists”.
He then predicted that African countries would eventually cut ties with the group after seeing that they only sow misery.
Macron has accused Russia of pushing anti-French propaganda on the continent to suit its “predatory” agenda.
Macron has repeatedly called Africa a priority of his second term. Just 3 months after he was re-elected in April, 2022, Macron took a trip to Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau.
In November last year, he returned to the continent to attend a summit of Francophone countries in Tunisia. About 30 world leaders, including those from Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Canada were present.
At the summit, Macron grieved the decline of the French language in Africa and erroneously called it “the language of pan-Africanism”.
France’s Relationship with Africa
While criticising France’s colonial past on the continent in a 2017 speech to students at a university in Burkina Faso, Macron mentioned his hopes of creating a “truly new relationship” between Africa and Europe.
However, even after colonialism, France’s influence over its former colonies has received widespread criticism over the years. Thus, the country has been dubbed a neo-colonial master on the continent.
In 2020, a bill ratifying the end of the CFA Franc was finally adopted by the French Council of Masters. This meant that for 8 Francophone West African countries, there would no longer be a requirement to give 50% of their forex reserves to the Bank of France.
The currency was the major indication of France’s continued economic domination in the region and thus, was heavily criticised.
However, the Central African CFA Franc (XAF) is still in use in 6 Central African countries, including Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea.
France’s decision to take a backseat with military operations on the continent will likely be a welcome development as the country has often been criticised for its White Saviour Complex in relation to its dealings with the Francophone sub-continent.
In August 2022, Malian junta spokesperson Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga stated, “The transitional government demands President Macron permanently abandon his neo-colonial, paternalistic and patronising posture to understand that no one can love Mali better than Malians’.
The statement was in response to Macron’s remarks during his visit to Africa the month before.
Sources: France24, Reuters, Africa News