Macron's recent visits to Africa tell a story of France making an act of repentance for its colonial crimes while trying to retain its influence inherited from colonialism.
At first glance, it is difficult to understand why he chose these apparently very different countries: three former French colonies – Cameroon, Benin and Algeria – and one former Portuguese colony – Guinea-Bissau.
Nonetheless, overall, Mr. Macron's visits reveal that France is repenting of its colonial crimes while trying to retain the influence stemming from colonialism.
These two themes also appeared during the New France-Africa Summit organized in October 2021 in Montpellier. Macron promised to invest in African technology start-ups in order to extend the influence of French private companies, while promoting the rapport of the academic Achille Mbembe on the new relations between France and Africa.
The French President had another opportunity to show the good relations he has with African leaders, during the European Union-African Union summit in February 2022, which was organized jointly by Macron – France held the presidency of the European Union at the time – and by the President of the Council of the EU, Charles Michel.
Repentance efforts have been staged during each of his recent country visits. During a press conference with Cameroonian President Paul Biya, Macron said that France's archives on colonial rule in Cameroon would be open "in their entirety". He said he hoped historians from both countries would work together to shed light on the "painful moments".
In Benin, the French President has accompanied the President of Benin, Patrice Talon, during the visit of an exhibition devoted to the royal treasures of Abomey, stolen by France 139 years ago and returned in November 2021. In Guinea-Bissau, he has announced the opening of a French school and the establishment of a sports exchange programme, in keeping with the increased importance he places on cultural diplomacy.
The efforts made during these three visits to preserve the influence of France were also evident. Given the diminishing presence of French troops in Mali, Paris is looking for new military options and hopes to find them with Macron's hosts. In Benin, the French president therefore spoke of security, while in Yaoundé he reaffirmed that France remained tied to continental security.
In Guinea-Bissau, Macron said France must " contribute in the fight against terrorism throughout the region".
From my point of view, Macron is using the growing demand from African societies for more fundamental decolonization as a pretext to continue to exert influence on the continent.
Correcting the mistakes of colonial history
The draft decolonial justice has recently been evoked by other former colonial powers to restore their image in Africa. Belgium has recently returned a tooth of Patrice Lumumba, Congo's first Prime Minister, 61 years after authorizing his assassination.
Correcting mistakes made during colonization has become a popular way for northern governments to practice their diplomacy in Africa. In the past there were calls for new relationships and for forgetting the colonial past. Today, heads of state show their willingness to take responsibility for colonial crimes. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for example, has stressed the need to become " equal partners and recognize that there is
generations of Africans whose destiny was forged by the colonial powers.
In my opinion, this is a clever way of reversing the scenario developed by the Russians and the Chinese who point out that they never colonized this continent, an argument already made in the 1960s when Zhou Enlai and Leonid Brezhnev visited Africa.
In his attempt to rewrite this narrative, Macron went so far as to refer to Russia as "one of the last imperial colonial powers" for his invasion of Ukraine.
It's all part of Macron's cynical twist on decolonization, his version tending to right past wrongs while rolling back the cause of decolonization through intervention.
A renewed interest in Africa
What differentiates France from the United States and Belgium is that the Élysée is trying to counterbalance a declining military position in Mali. Its troops leave the country and are replaced by Russian mercenaries, the famous Wagner group.
France intervened in northern Mali in 2013 with theOpération Serval. Paris has also called on additional capabilities and training from nations like Belgium and Sweden with the aim of repelling Islamic fighters in the Sahel.
The Cold War logic that has been imposed on this trip is, however, far too simplistic. It does not take into account the regional policy of West Africa, where the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) increasingly feels the need to take action against coup d'etat that hit the region: Mali in August 2020 and May 2021, Guinea in September 2021, Burkina Faso in January 2022 and the failed coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau in February 2022.
Much more than the intervention in Ukraine, the coups in West Africa also explain what brought Macron to Guinea-Bissau, the country that assumed the rotating presidency of ECOWAS in July. This organization has also lifted its sanctions when the Malian junta promised to hold elections in February 2024.
ECOWAS also succeeded in reaching an agreement with Burkina Faso's military junta on a timetable for the transition to democracy. The return to civilian rule is scheduled for July 2024.
By making the double promise to Guinea-Bissau to increase cultural investments and to supply it with weapons, Mcron seeks to interfere in the regional organization, despite the fact that France has "always respected" the position of ECOWAS on regional issues. It is simply a question for the Élysée to cover West Africa without having to shuttle diplomatically between different West African capitals, when it is necessary to protect a vital interest.
Keeping the focus on Ukraine and on Lavrov's mission was therefore in the interest of the French president, who was incidentally questioned as to why African countries had not received such arms deliveries. easily than Ukraine. These could then be presented as something positive, rather than a disastrous policy that hardly ever works.
As always, it is ordinary people who will pay the price, as they are forced to live in increasingly heavily armed societies. the uprising in northern Mali in 2013, which Macron is now trying to manage through ECOWAS, was the consequence of the2011 military intervention of France and its allies in Libya and the subsequent overthrow of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
This could set back the development of these countries by years, preventing them from joining the economies of the “Lions of Africa” – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and South Africa – all avoided by Macron.