Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron visited four Central African countries, Gabon, Angola, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, between March 1-4. This four-day visit, Macron’s 18th visit to Africa as president, shows how much Macron attaches importance to the African continent. The visit to improve relations with African countries has caused many discussions.
Days before his visit, Macron explained the new French strategy, the Africa-France Partnership, for Africa at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Feb. 27. He started his speech by acknowledging the shortcomings of traditional French policy toward Africa. First, President Macron said they would change their dialogue toward the continent. He pointed out that France must abandon its arrogant stance, show profound humility toward Africa, and develop a mutual and responsible relationship with all African countries.
Second, he has declared that France, which has thousands of troops in the Francophone African countries, would end hosting military bases in the continent. Instead, he added that they would establish “academies” jointly administered by France and the host countries. As a result, France and other Western countries will have to reduce their military presence in the continent and change their dealings with African countries.
Although Macron has announced a new strategy for Africa, African observers claim it is only words and do not expect a fundamental change. Many African analysts who follow Macron’s visits to the continent know that Macron made similar remarks during his previous visits; however, these statements have never resulted in policy implementation. These Africans claim that Macron’s speech was a public relations activity aimed at winning the hearts of African people, nothing else.
Is real change possible?
On the other hand, others are more optimistic about the beginning of a fundamental change in French policy toward the continent. This group of observers thinks that the realities on the ground will force France to change its policies toward the mainland.
France and other Western countries have realized that it is impossible to maintain their influence on the continent. Competing with other global powers will be impossible if they do not change their colonialist policies and hierarchical political discourse. The Western countries are expected to abandon their policies of exploitation of African resources and supporting autocratic regimes. They know they have strong rivals such as China, Russia and India on the African continent. Significantly, Russian expansionism in the continent worries Western countries, particularly France.
During the news conference at his last destination, Macron argued with the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, when the latter decided to remind Macron about his country’s involvement in the 1994 genocide. Then, President Tshisekedi, who pointed out that “Francafrique is a thing of the past,” questioned how France would help restore security in his country.
Due to the rising anti-French sentiments in different African countries, some groups denounced Macron’s last visit. Recently, there has been an increasing wave of anti-French protests throughout Africa. In addition, several months ago, anti-French rallies erupted in other African countries, such as Mali and Burkina Faso.
It is not easy for the Western countries to restore their relations with the rising Africa, which asks the West to abandon their hierarchical and unilateral policies toward the continent. Therefore, Tshisekedi’s reaction is not an exception. A similar reaction has come from the president of Namibia, Hage Geingob, who silenced the former president of the German Parliament, Norbert Lammert. President Geingob, who has called on Western politicians not to lecture them and not to worry about them, explained that the presence of Chinese in Africa is not an African problem but a European one.
Former colonial countries are still held responsible for the continuous insecurity in the different parts of Africa, such as the Sahel region. Certain African countries blame them for bringing juntas to power in other countries, such as Mali and Burkina Faso. Since Africa is still critical of France and it is difficult for France to withdraw from the continent, it has to change its political discourse. Otherwise, it cannot restore its image on the continent and may lose the continent to other global powers. The former colonial powers should not forget that Africa is not the backyard of Europeans anymore, and they cannot pursue their traditional unilateral policies. Other states, such as Russia, China and India, also occupy the continent. If the former colonial countries do not get rid of their superiority complex vis-a-vis Africa, they will lose the competition.