Africa Watch

Macron's oppotunity to set record straight on Africa

Macron meeting Mali’s Keita

The newly elected French president can improve the tainted image of his country in Africa.

At 39 the centrist Emmanuel Macron is not only the youngest elected French president in history, and youngest French head of state since Napoleon, he is also a leader without a party with a history.

New era

His election reflects a clear message from voters the world over, particularly in the West – they are sick and tired of the stale and corrupt performance of the old traditional parties. Donald Trump’s victory is another example.

Electing Macron, French voters humiliated the established Conservative and Socialist parties that for many years dominated French politics.

Although cutting his political teeth in the socialist environment Macron in November 2016 announced he would run for election under the banner of En Marche!, a centrist political movement, he founded only seven months earlier.

He won handsomely, defeating the far-right candidate, Marine LePen. But his movement has no representation in parliament.

The trend of rejection of old, established parties and ideas has been set in motion – other countries are likely to follow.  

New Africa outlook 

When campaigning Macron said little about Africa, which was not an election issue. But, from what he did say, analysts anticipate a dramatic break from the traditional French policy towards Africa. 

Macron stirred controversy at home, condemning France's colonial war in Algeria as a crime against humanity – something which was well-received in former French colonies.

He also said he would lobby the G20 at its July summit in Germany, to support economic development in Africa, and in more direct terms he pledged to channel most of France's foreign aid to Africa, intending to increase it to 0.7% of France’s GDP.

In what would be tantamount to uprooting a cornerstone of France’s traditional African policy, if it should be realised, and a “holy cow” no previous French president dared to consider, Macron said African countries must decide whether they want to keep the CFA currency – pegged to the euro with the financial backing of the French treasury.

It is one, if not the most significant, signs of France's continued influence over its former colonies.

For some it is a guarantee of financial stability. Others reject it as a colonial relic and claim true economic development for the fourteen African countries linked to it, can only be achieved if they shake off.

Some critics feel strongly that in exchange for the "luxury" of the guarantee provided by the French treasury, African countries channel more money to France than received in aid.

How the 14 African countries will respond would speak volumes and prove their commitment to demands for greater independence from France.

Macron also vowed to put the fight against Islamist militants at the top of his security priorities.

Obligating his promise, Macron’s first visit abroad saw him meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel a day after his victory, and next came Mali, a country ravaged and torn apart by various marauding fundamentalist Islamic groups.

The reason for visiting Mali is two-fold.

Visiting Mali showed he is committed to continue with existing French policy towards the country and the region, and is intended to prove to French troops deployed in Mali and elsewhere that he cares.

As former colonial power, France has taken a leading role in the fight – also on behest of allies – against the growing Islamic radicalism driven danger, of terrorism in its erstwhile colonies in Africa, particularly Mali.

It’s a role admitted by the US.

The Trump administration is already fighting the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria and weighing whether to send several thousand more American troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.

As Eric Schmittmay explained, the US has been only too eager to continue Obama-era policies, providing financial, logistical, and intelligence support to France in combatting terror in Africa – hoping to avoid having to put American combat forces on the ground in yet another global hot spot.

In contrast to most other former colonial powers in Africa, France has never ducked away from military involvement in erstwhile colonies.  

Over the past several years, French troops battled Al Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate and other Islamist extremists in the region.

In January 2013 France intervened militarily, on a grand scale, to prevent Mali from falling in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.  France went further in helping African troops thwart Boko Haram, the violent militancy that spilled from Nigeria to attack Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

The Macron administration has also indicated it is taking a fresh look at Libya, seeking new approaches to bring the warring Libyan factions together in an united front against Islamic extremism in that country.

But, not everyone is keen about the French in Africa. Guinea’s president, currently serving as African Union (AU) chairman, called on African countries to “cut the umbilical cord with France” to initiate the continent’s development.

Interesting Observation

While it seems that President Macron will continue with the established French military policy vis-à-vis Africa, political analyst Theophile Balima made an interesting observation.

 According to him Macron is suitably placed to end the much criticised France-Africa political relationship, popularly referred to as ‘Francafrique.’

Francafrique, which dominated France’s relationship with its former colonies, can be described as an informal web of relationships Paris maintained with former African colonies and its support, sometimes in the form of military backing to unpopular heads of state, or ignoring blatant misrule by politicians favouring French business interests.

Balima argues that Macron’s age enable him to execute a plan that none of his predecessors could or would achieve. He does not belong to the old generation and importantly has no known friends in the “Mafiosi circles” in Francophone Africa.

A significant factor in his favour, if he wants to overhaul France’s blemished Africa policy, is that his administration is not a continuation of previous Conservative or Socialist governments, all guilty of corrupt and dodgy dealings with African counterparts.

Macron’s two immediate predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, both promised to end the Francafrique policy, but kept France deeply involved in African politics and security matters.

If Macron is going to take up this opportunity and help restore the tainted image of France in Africa, it is a decision only he can take.

He has promised to do so during his election campaign, talking about writing a new page in his country's relationship on the continent, and of breaking away from the old neo-colonial networks.  

Now is the time for him to act.

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