French interference in Africa is ‘over’, Macron says during four-nation tour to rebuild ties
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that the era of French intervention in Africa was “over,” as he embarked on a four-country tour of the continent to revive strained ties. Anti-French sentiment is running high in some former African colonies as the continent becomes a new diplomatic battleground, with Russian and Chinese influence growing in the region.
Macron said France did not want to repeat its past policy of meddling in Africa ahead of an environmental summit in Gabon, the first stop of his trip.
“The era of France is over,” Macron said in a speech to the French community in the capital, Libreville, referring to France’s post-colonial strategy of backing autocratic leaders to defend their interests.
“Sometimes I feel that when I read and hear and see people attribute to France intentions that France doesn’t have, people’s mentality doesn’t change the way we do.”
“French Africa” is a favorite target of pan-Africanists, who say that after a wave of decolonization in the 1960s, France supported the dictators of its former colonies in exchange for resources and military bases.
Macron and his predecessors, notably Francois Hollande, had previously declared the policy dead and that France had no intention of interfering in sovereign affairs.
Ahead of his visit, Macron said on Monday that France’s troop presence in Africa would be “significantly reduced” in the “coming months” and that there would be a greater focus on training and equipping allied forces.
France has withdrawn troops from its former colonies Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic in the past year.
The withdrawal of troops from Mali and Burkina Faso, where soldiers are supporting the Sahel country in its fight against a long-running jihadist insurgency, is on the back of a wave of local hostilities.
In his speech on Thursday, Macron insisted that the planned restructuring was “neither an exit nor a disengagement”, defining it as adapting to the needs of partners.
According to official figures, more than 3,000 French soldiers are deployed in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon and Djibouti.
Another 3,000 are in the Sahel region of West Africa, including Niger and Chad.
Forest Conservation Drive
Macron arrived in Libreville on Wednesday before heading to Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
His comments came ahead of several heads of state who will attend the One Forest Summit in Libreville, which will focus on protecting tropical rainforests, which play an important role in the global climate system.
The forests of the vast Congo River Basin are the second largest carbon sink on Earth after the Amazon.
They are also home to a huge biodiversity including forest elephants and gorillas, and bear traces of early human settlement.
But they face threats from poaching, deforestation for the oil, palm and rubber industries, and illegal logging and mineral extraction.
>> Earth’s ‘green lung’ rainforests take center stage in talks in Gabon
Macron spoke of the challenge of mobilizing international finance during a tour of the Raponda Walker Arboretum, a coastal reserve north of Libreville, with Gabon’s environment minister, Lee White.
“We always talk about billions at summits, but people don’t see it on the ground because the system is not perfect,” he said.
His schedule includes meetings with scientists, NGOs and private sector participants at the presidential palace.
Other presidents expected to attend the summit include host Gabon’s Ali Bongo Ondimba; Congo-Brazzaville’s Denis Sassou Nguesso; Central African Republic’s Faustin Archange Touadera; Chad’s Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno; Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
The meeting kicked off on Wednesday with an exchange of ministers, civil society representatives and experts.
Macron traveled to the former Portuguese colony of Angola on Friday, where he will sign an agreement to develop the agricultural sector as part of a bid to strengthen France’s ties with English-speaking and Portuguese-speaking African countries.
He then stopped in the Republic of Congo, another former French colony where Sassu Nguesso ruled for almost four decades, and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.