April 19. 2024. 8:35

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Macron attempts to re-assert waning French influence on central African trip

French president Emmanuel Macron arrived in Gabon on Wednesday at the start of a four-day journey through central Africa, with the goal of reversing the decline of French influence on the continent.

France ended its anti-insurgency Barkhane operation in Mali last August and pulled out of Burkina Faso at the end of February at the request of hostile military juntas.

In a speech at the Élysée before his departure, Macron said that France ‘assumed exorbitant responsibility’ in Mali and became ‘the ideal scapegoat’ for the failure of Mali’s leaders to bring about a recovery

Former president François Hollande initiated the French mission to the Sahel region in 2013, when jihadists threatened to take over Mali. Fifty-eight French soldiers have died there.

In a speech at the Élysée before his departure, Macron said France “assumed exorbitant responsibility” in Mali and became “the ideal scapegoat” for the failure of Mali’s leaders to bring about a recovery.

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Macron attempts to re-assert waning French influence on central African trip


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France is the butt of a sustained disinformation campaign by Russia on social media in Africa. Macron said he wanted “to give meaning to what we have been trying to do … to have a policy that is simpler, more legible … We are being held to account for the past, without having totally convinced regarding our shared future.”

Some African leaders turned to Russians in the Wagner mercenary group, which is also fighting in Ukraine, to counter the advance of the terror groups al-Qaeda and Islamic State in their countries.

“African states, including those who have chosen this short-term solution [Wagner mercenaries], will end up rejecting it because it sows only misfortune wherever it goes,” Macron said.

France is at a competitive disadvantage in selling weapons to Africa, because prices offered by Russia, China and Turkey are lower, and come with no objections over human rights abuses.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov spent nearly a week touring Africa last month. On his return to Moscow on February 10th, he said western attempts to isolate Russia had been “a fiasco” and that Russia was “strengthening good neighbourly relations … with the international majority”.

Macron said he wants “a new partnership between South and North … to avert the story that is taking hold of a double standard regarding Ukraine and the rest of the world, including Africa, that of a division between the West and the Global South … If this narrative takes over, it will be terrible for a country like ours.”

The priority given until now to security and military policy had “cast a shadow” over relations with Africa and was used for propaganda purposes by opponents of French influence, Macron said. From the end of this year, “there will be no more [French military bases as such” in Africa, only military academies for the training of African troops, and bases, some of them renamed, under “co-management” with host countries.

France will reduce the number of soldiers in west Africa, where 1,700 soldiers are deployed in Ivory Coast, Senegal and Gabon. Only Djibouti, which has the largest French overseas base with 1,500 military, and which is strategically located on the northeastern corner of the horn of Africa, will not be affected.

The family of President Ali Bongo has ruled Gabon for 56 years. Denis Sassou Nguesso, considered France’s man in Brazzaville, has presided over Congo for 43 years

Security and trade have until now been the mainstays of French policy in Africa. The “comfortable reading of the past” measured French influence “by the number of our military operations”, Macron said. Some were “satisfied with privileged and exclusive ties with leaders, or considered that we had a right to economic markets because we were there first”.

Macron’s call for democracy in Africa sat uncomfortably with his visits to the former colonies of Gabon and Congo, whose presidential elections cannot be called free and fair. The family of President Ali Bongo has ruled Gabon for 56 years. Denis Sassou Nguesso, considered France’s man in Brazzaville, has presided over Congo for 43 years.

Macron admitted that economically, France “is in a position which is not going in the right direction” in Africa, which had become “a land of competition”. France “has the opportunity to anchor ourselves to the continent which will, progressively, be one of the youngest, most dynamic markets in the world, and one of the great centres of growth for decades to come”, he said.

Successive French presidents have promised to end la Françafrique. The contraction of the words France and Africa refers to the post-colonial system which started with Charles de Gaulle, under which African leaders were chosen in the Élysée.

“Personally, I have no nostalgia for la Françafrique,” Macron said. “But I do not want to leave an absence or a void behind her.”

The One Forest Summit in Libreville was the French leader’s first stop. The Congo basin is the second largest tropical forest in the world, after the Amazon, but captures nearly six times as much carbon, according to the US-based World Resource Institute. Gabon seeks payment for its contribution to carbon capture and the protection of biodiversity.

Macron will also visit Angola, Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.