Macron’s re-election and French policies in Africa
When Emmanuel Macron was elected as the French president in 2017, he had big ideas on Africa which he elaborated during his speech in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in November 2017.
During Macron’s visit to East Africa he further laid out his policy in Africa by stating that: “They [Anglophone East African countries] have resources, financial means and growth. I’m not convinced that what is seen as ‘our Africa’ (France’s former colonies) can offer the business opportunities we have elsewhere on the continent.”
France appears to be reforming its policy by investing more in financial assistance to African countries as opposed to direct military involvement. On March 2, French MPs approved a bill increasing France’s foreign aid budget to 0.55 percent of GDP by 2022. The state objective of this assistance is “to fight against poverty, to counter climate change, to bolster public health, to expand education services and to achieve gender equality” – focused on Sub-Saharan Africa. This is part of a strategy to counter rising geopolitical influence of countries such as China, Turkey and Russia in Africa.
Military withdrawal from West Africa
In June, Macron declared that France's Operation Barkhane in the Sahel would no longer exist in its current form and an international alliance to fight terrorism in the region would be created. During a virtual meeting of Sahel region leaders, Macron announced that he would cut the number of French troops in the Sahel from more than 5,000 to between 2,500 by next year.
Macron’s statement had different messages to French voters, the United States, European partners, African people and rulers in the Sahel.Germany , France the
US and Britain have all expressed concern about reports of an agreement between
Mali’s new military rulers and the Wagner Group, a Russian military
contractor said to have close ties to the Kremlin.
The deal reflects the continuing political shift in Mali and the changing dynamics in ties with two international powers: Russia and France.
There is the possibility that Mali military leaders are trying to put pressure on France and also the EU, to maintain security cooperation and to try to guarantee their support for the transition. Because it is quite clear that the transitional government is going to delay the elections.
While France is opposed to the presence of Russia in Mali and the Central African Republic, it also seeks to avoid direct confrontation with Moscow. Both France and Germany are on balancing confrontation with Russia with economic and other cooperation. That is clear with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will carry natural gas from Russia to Europe through the Baltic Sea.
Macron and English Speaking Africa
While France is reducing its military presence in mostly francophone West Africa, it is also turning its attention to ‘non-traditional’ states in East and Southern Africa.
In May 2021, Macron visited South Africa and Rwanda, a former francophone country which later joined Britain’s commonwealth group.
In 2019, Macron visited Kenya; a major English speaking country in Africa. Macron's visit was the first by a French leader since Kenya became independent from Britain in 1963. While in Nairobi he launched a Peugeot assembly plant and pledged greater partnerships with Kenya in economic development and efforts to improve the environment and to battle regional extremist violence.
Macron came to Kenya after visiting Ethiopia on a trip focused on investment and security in East Africa, a region of increasing strategic importance.
In 2018, Macron visited Nigeria and met his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari, in his attempt to forge closer ties with this English-speaking country with the largest economy in Africa. Earlier in 2017, Macron also visited another important English speaking African country, Ghana.
France is working to build new partnerships, particularly with emerging African economies which were not colonies of France, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Anglophone Africa has generally performed better economically than francophone Africa and Macron is eager to create opportunities for French companies which are also more stable politically.
Targeting African Youth
Macron hosted a conference on Africa on October 8 billed as a summit but with no other leaders attending, as he aims to readjust France's relationship with the continent.
Instead of other heads of state and premiers, Macron invited hundreds of young businesspeople, artists and sporting figures to the southern city of Montpellier.
The new format hints at the frustration felt by France, which has held summits with African leaders since 1973, with the political leadership of some countries.
France - Algeria Tensions
Tensions between France and Algeria have continued to rise following remarks by Macron on the North African country’s colonial past.
Interestingly, the recent Macron statement came during a private meeting with French-Algerians, who fought on the side of France against Algerian resistance, being accused as “collaborators” of colonialists. Macron told descendants of Algeria's war of independence that the version of history transmitted to Algerians was not based on truths but on a discourse of hatred towards France.
He noted that Turkey also colonized Algeria and was fascinated to see Turkey’s ability to make people totally forget the role it played in Algeria and the domination it has exercised.
The remarks are a clear pointer that Turkey is seen as a competitor with France economically, politically and militarily in Algeria and across Africa and this comes into more focus after new gas discoveries in East Mediterranean.
The tensions between Algeria and France are also linked to next year’s elections in France. It appears that Macron wants to be viewed as a politician with far-right credentials by making remarks that glorify French colonialism in Algeria, which holds a lot of symbolic value to far-right voters in France.
Paris has also reduced the number of visas available to people from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, accusing the governments of the North African countries of refusing to take back irregular migrants expelled from France.
Macron’s re-election strategy appears to try to win far right voters by making the elections not about poverty, or economic crisis, but instead about glorifying French colonialism, withdrawal of troops from West Africa, presenting mostly North African Muslim migrants as the enemy and all these are linked to his strategy of Islamophobia.