March 25, 2023

President Emmanuel Macron has said the era of French interference in Africa was “well over” as he embarked on a four-country tour of the continent to renew frayed ties.

Anti-French sentiment has run high in some former African colonies as the continent has become a renewed diplomatic battleground, with growing Russian and Chinese influence in the region.

Macron said France had no desire to return to its former policy of meddling in Africa ahead of an environmental summit in Gabon, the first leg of its journey.

“The era of Francafrique is long gone,” Macron said in remarks to the French community in the capital Libreville, referring to France’s post-colonization strategy of supporting authoritarian leaders in defending its interests.

“Sometimes I feel that the mindset has not changed as much as we have when I read, hear and see people attribute intentions to France that it does not have,” he added.

“Francafrique” is a favorite target of Pan-Africanists, who have said that after the wave of decolonization in 1960, France supported dictators in its former colonies in exchange for access to resources and military bases.

Macron and his predecessors, notably François Hollande, have previously stated that the policy is dead and that France has no intention of interfering in sovereign affairs.

Military overhaul

Macron said on Monday there would be a “noticeable reduction” in the presence of French troops in Africa “in the coming months” and that there would be a greater focus on training and equipping the troops of allied countries.

France has withdrawn troops from the former colonies of Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic (CAR) in the past year.

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The withdrawal from Mali and Burkina Faso, where the soldiers supported Sahel nations to fight a long-running armed insurgency, came on the back of a wave of local animosity.

In his remarks on Thursday, Macron stressed that the planned reorganization was “neither a retreat nor a retreat”, describing it as adapting to the needs of partners.

These areas of cooperation include combating maritime piracy, illegal gold mining and environmental crimes related to regional drug trafficking, itself driven by a “terrorist movement” in the Lake Chad region, he said.

According to official figures, more than 3,000 French soldiers have been deployed to Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Djibouti.

The proposed revamp covers the first three bases, but not Djibouti, which is more oriented towards the Indian Ocean.

Another 3,000 troops are in the Sahel region of West Africa, including Niger and Chad.

Driving forest protection

Macron landed in Libreville on Wednesday and will later travel to Angola, the Republic of Congo and the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

His remarks came before several heads of state were due to attend the One Forest Summit in Libreville, which will focus on preserving rainforests that play a critical role in the global climate system.

The forests of the vast Congo River basin are among the largest carbon sinks in the world.

They are also home to tremendous biodiversity, including forest elephants and gorillas, and bear traces of early human settlement.

But they are threatened by poaching, deforestation for the oil, palm and rubber industries, illegal logging and mineral exploitation.

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Macron spoke about the challenges of mobilizing international finance as he and Gabonese Environment Minister Lee White toured the Raponda Walker Arboretum, a protected coastal area north of Libreville.

“We always talk about billions on our peaks, but people don’t see much of it on the ground because the systems are imperfect,” he said.

Other presidents expected to attend the summit include host Ali Bongo Ondimba from Gabon; Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo; Faustin-Archangel Touadera of the CAR; Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno of Chad; and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.

The meeting started on Wednesday with exchanges between ministers, civil society representatives and experts.

Macron is headed to the former Portuguese colony of Angola on Friday, where he will sign an agreement to develop the agricultural sector as part of a push to strengthen French ties with Anglophone and Lusophone Africa.

He will then stop in the Republic of the Congo, another former French colony, where Sassou Nguesso ruled for nearly four decades in all, and neighboring DRC.

Last year, Macron toured Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau on his first trip to the continent since winning re-election, in an attempt to revive France’s post-colonial relationship with the continent.

The tour was intended to “show the president’s commitment to the process of renewing relations with the African continent,” said a French presidential official, who asked not to be named. It indicated that the African continent is a “political priority” of his presidency.