French President Emmanuel Macron outlined his strategy for Africa in a speech before embarking on his African tour Wednesday that will take him to Gabon, Angola, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The speech on Monday at the presidency has drawn varied reactions with some saying Macron had simply repackaged themes of a speech on French policy in Africa made during his previous visit to the continent in 2017.
Reading from same script
Macron said France must demonstrate “profound humility” towards Africa.
“We see Macron made similar remarks in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso’s capital) and several other African countries,” African policy analyst Garba Moussa told Anadolu.
“But this time, there is some appeasement when Macron stressed that France must demonstrate humility towards Africa. There we see a change in attitude after France’s past arrogance towards Africa.”
Macron said France would end hosting regular military bases in Africa and will instead establish “academies” to be co-run by France and host countries.
Moussa, a specialist in African politics, thinks France is emulating American policy in Africa of being present on the continent but with a “noticeable reduction” of its military personnel.
Cameroonian philosopher Hubert Mono Ndjana lauded Macron’s speech about “humility long demanded by many” parties, especially in Africa.
Ndjana said the test is in walking the talk and all parties wait to see whether this is “the beginning of real change.”
Raissa Girondin, a Togo-based political analyst, sounded critical.
She described Macron’s speech as “only a dish well prepared on gas” but “basically offering nothing surprising.”
“In reality, there is nothing. It is simply a flattering speech with a single objective: to win back hearts, while the heart of many African countries is very far, far from France,” she said.
Louis Gitinywa, a Rwanda-based political analyst, said it was quite early to assess the impact of his presumed shift of France’s foreign policy in Africa.
He, however, noted Macron has taken the bold step to acknowledge France’s shortcomings and failures of their foreign policy in sub-Saharan Africa amid changing dynamics.
“The African continent is no longer French territory. In the long term, the status quo ante is no longer valid as we are observing a clear emancipation of African states. But we have to wait to see how this will be implemented on the ground,” Gitinywa said.
In Benin, Gille Gohy, a political scientist, said Macron’s speech showed great realism.
“There is no more arrogance. Both parties must have the same level of dialogue, the same level of cooperation for future solid agreements. France and African countries are aware that they each have their own role to play for profitable relations,” said Gohy.
“This is a positive speech. I am sure that African countries will feel it. I see that France really wants to change its attitude toward its African partners.”
Gohy underlined that France is also “playing for its survival” because of its waning influence on the continent.
Amir Nourdine Elbachir, another political and geopolitical analyst, was not impressed by the fact that Macron was “still talking about plans for Africa without involving Africans.”
In a tweet, Elbachir said it is clear that “French interests are threatened in Africa” which explains Macron’s sudden thought about reviewing policy for the continent.
For politician Mamadou Dian Balde in Guinea Conakry, “since Macron’s speech in an amphitheater in Ouagadougou in 2017, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge” and “without the fruits keeping the promise of flowers because instead of strengthening ties with former colonies relations have rather weakened.”
Balde accused France of thinking it could fight terrorism in the Sahel alone.
Macron wanted to set the record straight by reshaping France’s image as one without any condescension by adopting a new approach of partnerships based on equality with African countries, according to Balde.
“As other rich countries are already doing, clearly, France must get rid of its superiority complex vis-a-vis Africa. This seems to be the hollow message conveyed in Macron’s speech. One wonders whether the era of Francafrique is over.”
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Macron is expected over the weekend, the newspaper Interkinois instead pointed to “the inconsistency between pro-Congo public discourse and tacit pro-Rwanda practice.”
Mauritanian professor Simon Paul Bangbo Ndobo summed it up saying: “France does not change, it adapts to the new situation.”
Gille Gohy, a Beninese political scientist, meanwhile said the new French cooperation must be “egalitarian,” and urged Africans to take advantage of it to avoid “resurfacing of the past painful memories.”
“President Macron is taking a strategic approach because he is behaving like a game player,” he said.
Gohy also suggested that Macron’s first flight to Africa this year is to counter Chinese influence, noting that the African countries with which France had privileged relations are not part of his tour this week.
France’s relations with its former colonies Mali and Burkina Faso where it wielded a lot of influence soured. France last month withdrew its troops from Burkina Faso as demanded by the military junta.
Paris also withdrew its forces from Mali last year after the military junta opted to work with a Russian paramilitary group Wegner.
“The countries Macron will visit have a value that France can take advantage of such as the Gabonese or Congolese oil. These countries have been courted in the very recent past by China, which is already firmly established,” he said. “France also wants to take advantage of this and not leave everything to China.”
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