Cry over spilled milk: France must demonstrate ‘profound humility’ toward Africa, Macron says
President Emmanuel Macron on Monday outlined France’s new strategy for Africa, where anti-French sentiment runs high in some of its former colonies. Ahead of a visit to Gabon, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Macron said that France needs to demonstrate a “profound humility” in Africa.
Macron also said France is planning a “noticeable reduction” of its military presence in Africa.
“The change will happen in the coming months, with a noticeable reduction in our numbers and the increased presence of our African partners at these bases,” he said.
France will end its practice of hosting regular military bases in Africa and will instead establish “academies” to be co-run by French and African armies. He said there would be a notable fall in French military personnel but an increase in efforts to provide training and equipment.
But this “reorganisation” is not withdrawal, Macron said.
“We will remain but with a reduced footprint” to help local troops according to their needs.
Macron said he was “proud” of France’s military record in Mali, and would not allow the country to be made a scapegoat for a worsening of the security situation in the Sahel, where Islamist insurgents have made fresh progress as France’s involvement has waned.
According to February 2023 estimates from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, fatalities linked to Islamist militants in Africa have surged by nearly 50 percent over the past year.
Macron went on to say that France’s objectif is to avoid giving “lectures” to its African partners.
“France’s role is not to fix all the problems in Africa,” he said.
He also expressed the hope that France could help foster small businesses and entrepreneurship in Africa and beyond.
“France is strong thanks to its diaspora,” Macron said, adding that France must help increase their economic and business ties with the continent and expressing hopes for an emergent “new generation of French-African entrepreneurs”.
His speech at the presidential palace comes two days ahead of a four-nation tour of central African countries, as Paris seeks to counter growing Chinese and Russian influence in the region.
Macron has insisted Africa is a priority of his second mandate in power, and in July he undertook a trip to Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau.
In a 2017 speech to students at a university in Burkina Faso, Macron pledged to break away from his country’s former post-colonial policies on the continent of more than 50 countries.
He criticised “the crimes of European colonisation” and called for a “truly new relationship” between Africa and Europe.
But much has changed in Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel region since he first expressed his intentions of redefining France’s relationship with the African continent.
France has fallen out with the new military authorities in Mali and Burkina Faso, withdrawing its troops from both former French colonies after years of helping the authorities battle jihadists.
Alarm has grown in Paris and elsewhere in the West over the growing role of Russia in French-speaking African countries, alongside a Chinese push for influence that has been apparent for some years.
The Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries, infamous for their activities in Syria and Ukraine, are now active in Mali and the Central African Republic, both ruled by France during its colonial era. Reports have also suggested Wagner is seeking to implant itself in Burkina Faso, claims Moscow dismissed last week.
Last month the United Nations called for an independent investigation into allegations of “gross human rights abuses and possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Mali committed by both government forces and the Wagner Group since 2021.
Macron said that African nations would eventually stop turning to the Wagner Group as they would see that it only sows misery wherever they are active.
“It’s a group of criminal mercenaries, ‘life insurance’ used by failing regimes and putschists,” he said.
France still has thousands of troops in the region, including in Niger and Chad, but is seeking to redeploy some towards the Gulf of Guinea and tone down its presence on the ground.
Paris has also accused Russia of spreading disinformation to undermine French interests in its African former colonies.
Abstentions on the Ukraine war
The French president is also looking to boost ties in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago.
“Faced with strategic threats – the war in Ukraine as well as economic and pandemic shocks – it is crucial that Europe and Africa be as aligned and as close as possible in their dialogue,” a French presidential adviser told AFP, asking not to be named.
Macron has repeatedly urged countries of the Global South to condemn the war in Ukraine.
But when the United Nations on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to demand Russia immediately withdraw its troops from its pro-Western neighbour, three of the four countries Macron is visiting this week – Gabon, Angola and Congo-Brazzaville – abstained alongside China and India.
Macron will arrive in Gabon, a former French colony, on Wednesday to attend the One Forest Summit on preserving forests along the vast Congo River basin.
He will then head to the former Portuguese colony of Angola as part of a drive to enhance French ties with English- and Portuguese-speaking parts of Africa.
After Congo-Brazzaville, another former French colony, he will end his trip in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo – ruled by Belgium during the colonial era – on Friday and Saturday.