The president opens a “new era” for France on the continent with a tour
The largest building in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic and the former colony where France had the most influence until recently, is now the Bank of China, and those who protect the president are no longer French troops, but Wagner’s Russian mercenaries. Dozens of young people have demonstrated in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), under the cry of “Macron, murderer; Putin savior”. This is how they received the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who is embarking on a tour of four countries these days, one of them Congo.
Both examples illustrate the change of era on the continent and it is no coincidence that this is the 18th trip that Macron has made to the area since he became president, the second after his re-election last April. Russia and China are gaining a presence in the territory, they are taking over the raw materials and occupying the spaces that previously belonged to the West, especially France, the big loser on this front. It is the power that has yielded the most influence in the last decade.
The Élysée highlights that this trip “is a new opportunity to understand the continent in its complexity and better understand the transformations that are taking place”, in terms of climate, health and safety, “but above all in terms of economic opportunities, since that the continent will be the most dynamic market in the world”, says the French Presidency.
Macron will visit Gabon, the two Congos and Angola, from Wednesday to Sunday. In July he already went to Benin, Guinea and Cameroon. In Gabon, the first of his stops, they also welcomed him with street demonstrations to protest his visit. The French presence in French-speaking Africa provokes more and more hostility and suspicion, as these countries criticize the paternalistic role played by the former colonial power.
Emmanuel Macron, the first French president born in the post-colonial era, wants to convey another message with this visit: that France wants to close this past cycle and open “a new era” in “Francafrique”, as French-speaking Africa is called in Paris. , something that does not like anything in this territory. This new French era in the area will be based on economic and cultural ties and less on the military presence, one of its pillars of influence.
In the last decade, Paris had concentrated its efforts on guaranteeing security and fighting jihadism in the Sahel zone. In just a few months, the troops it had in the Central African Republic, Mali and Burkina Faso have been expelled by the governments of these countries, where the mercenaries of the Russian Wagner group have gained ground.
Last Monday Macron gave a speech at the Elysée in which he detailed this new French strategy in the territory and admitted the advance of these “adversaries” in what he described as “an anachronistic war” due to the military presence. “There is some disappointment regarding the role of France,” he said. “We have been led to believe that we could solve the problems of terrorism alone. This has favored our adversaries,” Macron said.
He announced that France will reduce its troops on the mainland and will also transform some of the military bases, inherited from the colonization era, and now jointly managed with the locals, will be “Africanized.” It is a decision of depth, although in part it has been the Russians who have displaced them. “To avoid repeating history, there is another way, which does not consist in reducing Africa to a field of competition, but in a field where we have shared responsibilities,” according to Macron.
The president has four years left at the Élysée and he also wants to leave his legacy on this continent with which there have always been close ties. He wants to move from a logic of aid to a “solidarity investment of collaboration”. He says that the African heritage that is in France will be restored and alliances will be strengthened in other areas: cultural, environmental, educational…
In Gabon, the opposition was very hostile to his visit, which is interpreted as a show of support for the current president, Ali Bongo, who was elected in 2016 in a dubious process and will be a candidate for re-election in this year’s elections. Although Gabon joined the Commonwealth last year, Ali Bongo has always been in favor of preserving the ties with France that his father forged.
Today the French president will make a foray into Angola (a former Portuguese colony) to sign an agreement to develop the agricultural sector in the country and then he will go to Brazzaville and, finally, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a former Belgian colony but the most French-speaking country. big and where there will also be elections in the coming months. Although it will be his last destination on this tour, already in the streets of Kinsasha they called him a murderer and waved flags in favor of Putin.