After the first round of the French legislative elections, this Sunday, Jean-Luc Mélenchon's New Popular Ecological and Social Union (NUPES) came out on top. If the leader of La France Insoumise is not yet Prime Minister, he hopes to take Matignon after the second round. A chance for Africa-France relations?
During the French legislative elections, the first round of which took place this Sunday, June 1, the majority of Emmanuel Macron – the Together coalition – was shaken up by the arrival in force of the New popular ecological and social union ( NUPES) initiated by the leader of the left Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
If the forecasts give a near equality between the two parliamentary coalitions, one thing is certain: these legislative elections will determine the next occupant of the Hôtel de Matignon, seat of the French Prime Minister, where Élisabeth Borne has recently been appointed.
Depending on the occupant of Matignon, many things could change in the policy of the French government, both nationally and internationally. Seen from Africa, French diplomacy greatly regressed during Emmanuel Macron's first term. And if Africans and the African diaspora did not hope for much improvement in the event of victory for the far right or the French presidential majority, during the legislative elections, the prospect of seeing Mélenchon at Matignon changes the situation.
The end of Macron's policy?
Indeed, whether in the camp of Macron, that of Marine Le Pen, or worse, that of Éric Zemmour, the African programs exposed during the presidential election of April 24 were not really in favor of the development of the continent. . Traditionally, the French left has often maintained better relations with African states, whether it has been in power or in opposition.
With the slight advance of the NUPES, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is therefore on the way to dislodging the new Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. If the French Prime Minister is appointed by the President - Emmanuel Macron, therefore -, custom dictates that the head of government should come from the majority political party in the National Assembly.
Between 2017 and 2022, Emmanuel Macron's Ensemble coalition - La République en Marche, at the time - assured him of choosing Prime Ministers on the same side: Édouard Philippe, then Jean Castex. The presidential coalition currently has 348 deputies out of the 577 in the Assembly, including 267 for Macron's party. However, the results of the first round of the legislative elections do not guarantee Emmanuel Macron to be able to maintain his Prime Minister.
If the NUPES won in the second round on June 19 and, thanks to the interplay of alliances, Mélenchon managed to obtain an absolute majority, a major cabinet reshuffle would take place. The arrival of the leader of the left at Matignon would be a real change for France's African policy.
Mélenchon dreams of abolishing Macron's "rotten policy" in Africa
First of all, concerning French interference in French-speaking Africa, Mélenchon claims to want to "combat the scourge of ultraliberal predation that is beating down on Africa". However, this "scourge" described by the French deputy is imposed by the French State only in its diplomatic, or even military aspect in the case of Chad, or Niger. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has often defended the revision of military agreements with African countries, just as he proposes to regulate arms exports.
It should be remembered that the sale of arms was one of Emmanuel Macron's anchor points in Africa during his first term, and also caused many scandals. The sale of arms to the Egyptian dictatorial regime, or the laundering of money from leaders in Southern Africa and Central Africa are the subject of several cases targeting French governments since Sarkozy, and until today.
As for the French military intervention in Africa, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has been fiercely opposed to it since 2012, long before Serval and Barkhane. "JLM" seems to want to reshuffle the French cards on the continent and review the alliances with certain African autocrats.
But it is especially in the support of the French State to its national companies in Africa that the bulk of the African policy of Paris is manifested. Mélenchon says he is opposed to the “looting (of Africa) organized by free trade agreements”. He denounces "the rotten African policy of Emmanuel Macron" whose "business vision" responds "only to the limited interests of the oligarchies" according to Mélenchon.
In his presidential program, he defended “a relationship with Africa based on the sovereignty of the peoples”. And, still on the subject of economy, Mélenchon is in favor of the abolition of the CFA franc, and asks that African countries “become sole masters of their currency”. We are far from the current policy of Paris.
The leader of the French left and potential future Prime Minister has also always campaigned for a ban on the export of toxic waste from French companies to Africa.
Mélenchon and Africa: different ideas…
The promises made by Jean-Luc Mélenchon during the presidential campaign could therefore be those of his future mandate as Prime Minister. Still, with a slight advance of 26,1% against 25,6% for Macron's coalition, nothing is decided yet. Moreover, in order to be able to impose his commitments, Mélenchon would have to be appointed Prime Minister, that he keep his coalition intact and that he succeed in imposing himself against Emmanuel Macron… The cohabitation promises to be stormy.
If he manages to install his own government, everything will depend on the portfolios that Jean-Luc Mélenchon will negotiate with the president. There is no doubt that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be one of the issues in the negotiations.
Beyond the Quai d'Orsay, on ecology and French investments in Africa, there is no doubt that Mélenchon, as Prime Minister, will be able to claim new standards vis-à-vis the continent. However, there is no French influence in Africa that does not pass through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And with the departure of Le Drian, all hopes are allowed.
Current French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna "doesn't have a drop of African politics in her", in the words of a former French diplomat. However, if we base ourselves on the few trips made by Jean-Luc Mélenchon in Africa, the African diplomacy of the leader of the French left, even if it respects the ideology of his party, is far from convincing in within its own coalition, and remains somewhat utopian and even populist.
Nevertheless, the one that Jeune Afrique describes as "the candidate of Africans" is undoubtedly closer to Morocco - he was born there -, to Burkina Faso - he considers himself a long-time Sankarist - and to Mali, now badly embarked on its relationship with France. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the only French parliamentary bloc leader to have condemned France's role in the deterioration of its relations with Bamako, as well as the effect of the sanctions affecting Mali.
On the other hand, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has an opinion that contrasts with the historical alliances of Paris. His arrival at Matignon could shake up the French square meadows in Africa. In 2016, before the European Parliament, "JLM" described the re-election of Ali Bongo in Gabon as "cheating". Regarding Chad, he called last year for France to choose “the Chadian people rather than the sixth term of Idriss Déby”. And where Macron had found nothing wrong with a third term for Alassane Ouattara in Côte d'Ivoire, Mélenchon called the Ivorian election a "parody". Without forgetting, in 2020, his outings against the Gnassingbé regime in Togo.
Ultimately, Mélenchon does not have his tongue in his pocket. He supports, through strong words in the media, on social networks and in the French parliament, causes shared by a large part of African youth. It remains to be seen whether the French Insoumis will manage to revolutionize the African policy of Paris.
But before hoping to put down its suitcases in Matignon, the NUPES must confirm its advance during the second round of the legislative elections. It is only then that the leader of the left will be able to build a new French diplomacy in Africa.