Macron ends Africa tour with wish for renewed partnership
French president acknowledges foreign powers are competing for influence in Africa
Kinshasa — French President Emmanuel Macron shared his vision of a renewed partnership with Africa in which it stands equal with France, as he concluded a tour where he has sought to dispel France’s image as an arrogant former colonial power while bidding for future influence.
The French president held talks on Saturday with President Felix Tshisekedi in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which last week saw several small-scale protests — signs of rising anti-French sentiment in parts of francophone Africa.
At a joint press conference, Macron acknowledged France was among foreign powers jostling for influence in Africa, but said he was committed to working with states on an equal footing.
“We want to be long-term partners,” he said. “Africa is a theatre of competition. It has to be done in a fair framework... We have our role to play, neither more nor less.”
This tour is Macron’s 18th visit to Africa as president and follows a recent slew of Africa tours by high-level US, Russian, and Chinese officials seeking closer ties.
France has endured a recent messy breakdown in relations with some former colonies in West Africa and his first-time visits to the DRC, Gabon, Angola and Congo Republic last week reflect Macron’s wish to turn the page.
On Monday, he outlined France’s new Africa policy, saying military bases would be co-run with host nations and commercial and other interests pursued with respect and humility.
Tshisekedi welcomed the new approach and said France needed to listen to what African people wanted if it hoped to compete with the continent’s other partners.
“Francafrique is a thing of the past,” he said, referring to the murky links that sometimes saw Paris prioritise commercial gain and support autocratic regimes in former colonies.
Nevertheless, signs of tension emerged later in the press conference when Macron appeared to suggest the insecurity in the DRC since 1994 was mostly its own fault.
“Sorry to say it in such harsh terms, you have not been able to restore your sovereignty,” he said.
Eastern DRC has struggled with instability and conflicts since the 1990s that have killed millions and given rise to dozens of militias, some of which remain active.
Change of tone
Macron has mostly avoided politics this week, announcing French humanitarian aid to eastern DRC, and support for agriculture and forests, prompting some to question the point.
“There is no political or strategic coherence to this four-day trip, it feels like they are clinging to something,” said Jean Gaspard Ntoutoume Ayi, vice-president of Gabonese opposition party Union Nationale.
France’s new approach comes amid a deepening security crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region that has fuelled anti-French protests and brought juntas to power in Burkina Faso and Mali which have rejected long-standing military ties.
“Macron is looking at how to respond to the wave of anti-French sentiment in the Sahel,” said Pauline Bax, Africa Programme deputy director at the International Crisis Group.
“Like it or not, Africa will remain important to France. It is not going to withdraw from this continent. There is a change of tone,” she said.
There have been no significant signs of public opposition to the tour apart from in the DRC, where perceptions of French support for neighbouring Rwanda have stoked anti-French feeling as eastern regions battle an offensive by the M23 rebel group that the DRC accuses Rwanda of backing. Rwanda denies this.
In Kinshasa, Macron said he had “been very clear about condemning the M23 and those who support it”.
A peace process brokered by regional powers in November has so far failed, but Macron said he had confidence in the plan.
“If they do not respect it, then yes there can be sanctions,” he said without naming any particular party.
Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.