French President Emmanuel Macron heads to central Africa Wednesday on a four-nation visit marked by what he said ahead of his planned Wednesday departure.
On Monday, he announced a revamped relationship with Africa, amid an increase in anti-French sentiment in some places— and rising Russian and Chinese influence.
“Partnership,” “humility,” and “reorganization” are part of Macron’s lexicon this week, with his new, recalibrated strategy for Africa.
He said French military bases in Africa would be reorganized — with some becoming military academies or run in collaboration with African and European partners — based on goals defined by African hosts.
He said France will conduct more training, supply more equipment and work more closely with local troops, according to their needs.
Macron also said France must show a “profound humility” and carve out a “new balanced and mutual responsible relationship” with African nations.
Macron’s revamped Africa strategy will be put to the test this week, as he heads first to Gabon on Wednesday for a summit on forests. He then goes on to visit Angola, the Republic of Congo and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Only two countries on his list — Gabon and the Republic of Congo — are former French colonies.
His Africa visit follows key setbacks for France, especially in the Sahel region, as a partnership to fight an Islamist insurgency unravels. France has ended military operations in Mali and Burkina Faso, amid deteriorating relationships with the military power-holders, and rising anti-French sentiment.
Paris is also feeling pressure from other foreign powers on the continent. That includes the private Russian military group Wagner, present in places like Mali and the Central African Republic, where it is accused of committing human rights violations.
Macron derided Wagner as a so-called “life insurance policy for failed regimes and putschists.” His government accuses Russia of spreading anti-French disinformation.
“The past 10-15 years, every French president comes to power with the idea of sort of reforming the relationship with Africa — moving beyond the old legacy of post-colonial relations,” said Martin Quencez, the Paris office director for the German Marshall Fund. He spoke to VOA before Macron’s speech. He said every recent reset effort has failed.
Shortly after becoming president in 2017, Macron called for turning a “new page” in French-African relations at a meeting with university students in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. It didn’t happen the way he planned — at least not in Burkina Faso.
“Macron right now is in a position where clearly France has lost influence in a region where we have invested a lot of money and military capacity in the region,” Quencez said. “The results are quite limited, to say the least.”
It’s not clear how Macron’s latest recalibration effort will fare.
Some Africans interviewed by French media said they heard nothing new in Macron’s speech. But others were more receptive.
Speaking to France’s TV5 Monde, Alioune Tine, founder of Dakar-based research group the Afrikajom Center, noted Macron was addressing not just African allies, but countries like Mali where France has problems. He said it was good the French president was trying to improve ties — but that it takes two to do so.
Separately, Macron’s push to return African artifacts taken during colonial times has also drawn praise, and objects have been returned to Benin and Senegal. He announced draft legislation to return objects to more African countries.