Emmanuel Macron, president of the French republic, shakes hands among the crowd and points to a direction or person, inaugurates the 59th edition of the SIA International Agricultural Show on Saturday, February 25, 2023 at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center. (Photograph by Maeva Destombes / Hans Lucas.)
(AFP) – President Emmanuel Macron is to outline on Monday France’s revamped strategy for Africa, where anti-French sentiment is running high in some of its former colonies.
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 is to visit Gabon for an environmental summit, followed by Angola, then the Republic of Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville, and finally the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
The president 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.
The French head of state, who was re-elected last year, is set to unveil on Monday “his priorities and his method to deepen the partnership between France, Europe and the African continent”, the presidential office has said.
His address follows a 2017 speech to students at a university in Burkina Faso in which he 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.
– Russian influence –
But much has changed in Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel region since.
France has fallen out with new military authorities in Mali and Burkina Faso, withdrawing its troops from both former French colonies after years helping the authorities there battle jihadists.
Alarm has grown in Paris over the growing role of Russia in French-speaking African countries, alongside a Chinese push for influence that has been apparent for some years.
France and its Western allies accuse Russian mercenary group Wagner, infamous for its activities in Syria and Ukraine, of being active in Mali and the Central African Republic, also ruled by France in the colonial era.
Reports have also suggested Wagner is seeking to implant itself in Burkina Faso, claims Moscow dismissed last week.
In recent months, Paris has accused Russia of spreading disinformation to undermine French interests in former colonies.
Macron was expected, in his speech, to give more details about the future of the French military presence on the continent after announcing in autumn the end of its Barkhane anti-jihadist operation in the Sahel.
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.
– Abstentions on Ukraine war –
The French president was also to reiterate the need 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.
© Agence France-Presse