French president Emmanuel Macron is drawing a line under the era of French interference in Africa. Speaking in Libreville as he began a four-nation tour of the continent to renew frayed ties, Macron said was “The age of Francafrique is well over.”
Anti-French sentiment runs high in some former African colonies as the continent becomes a renewed diplomatic battleground, with Russian and Chinese influence growing in the region.
Macron said France harboured no desire to return to past policies of interfering in Africa ahead of an environment summit in Gabon, the first leg of his trip.
Macron said in remarks to the French community in the capital Libreville, referring to France’s post-colonisation strategy of supporting authoritarian leaders to defend its interests.
“Sometimes I get the feeling that mind-sets haven’t moved along as much as we have, when I read, hear and see people ascribing intentions to France that it doesn’t have.”
“Francafrique” is a favourite target of Pan-Africanists, who say that after the wave of decolonisation in 1960, France propped up dictators in its former colonies in exchange for access to resources and military bases.
Ahead of his visit, Macron on Monday said there would be a “noticeable reduction” in France’s troop presence in Africa “in the coming months” and a greater focus on training and equipping allied countries’ forces.
France has in the past year withdrawn troops from former colonies Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic. The pull-out from Mali and Burkina Faso, where its soldiers were supporting the Sahel nations battle a long-running jihadist insurgency, came on the back of a wave of local hostility.
Macron and his predecessors, notably Francois Hollande, have previously declared that the policy is dead and that France has no intention of meddling in sovereign affairs, this time he insisted the planned reorganisation was “neither a withdrawal nor disengagement”, defining it as adapting to the needs of partners.
Macron landed in Libreville on Wednesday and will later head to Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Macron spoke of the challenges of mobilising international finance as he and Gabonese Environment Minister Lee White toured the Raponda Walker Arboretum, a protected coastal area north of Libreville.
His schedule included meeting scientists, NGOs and private sector actors at the presidential palace.