French diplomacy is turning from this Wednesday to Central Africa. Emmanuel Macron is starting a four-day tour in Libreville for this, the opportunity to experience the “new relationship” that he calls for with a continent where the influence of France continues to decline.
The Head of State is expected at the end of the afternoon in the capital of Gabon, the first stage of a journey which will then take him to Angola, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. If he is making his 18th trip to Africa since the start of his first five-year term in 2017, he is going there mainly two days after having exposed from Paris his African strategy for the next four years.
Reduction of the French military presence
Taking note of growing resentment towards France, a former colonial power, Emmanuel Macron called on Monday to “build a new, balanced, reciprocal and responsible relationship” with Africa. He also announced a reduction in the French military presence, focused for ten years on the fight against jihadism in the Sahel, but which has become the embodiment of the colonial heritage in the eyes of a youth eager for “new” independence.
The Head of State now intends to rely on civil society and the African diasporas in France to turn the page on “Françafrique”, long made up of troubled links and support for local potentates. But the exercise promises to be tricky in Gabon where the opposition accuses him of “doubting” through his visit President Ali Bongo, elected under controversial conditions in 2016 and likely candidate for re-election this year.
The latter will welcome him to the presidency on Wednesday evening for a dinner, followed by a sequence on Thursday as part of the One Forest Summit on the preservation of tropical forests. Emmanuel Macron, who defends himself from any “political” approach, also assures that the sole purpose of his visit is the summit on the forests of the Congo basin, the first lung of the planet according to the Elysée, now threatened by the agricultural overexploitation.
A meeting in the Congo reminiscent of “Francafrique”
Ditto in Luanda where he will sign a partnership on Friday to develop the agricultural sector in Angola, a leading oil country but where the majority of the population remains immersed in poverty. Emmanuel Macron will then make a brief stopover in Brazzaville where President Denis Sassou Nguesso has been in power for almost 40 years, a meeting which there too risks appearing against the grain of his speech on Monday.
Finally, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a former Belgian colony but also the largest French-speaking country in the world, will undoubtedly offer him a better opportunity to unfold his vision of Africa. But here too President Félix Tshisekedi, in power since January 2019, is preparing for an election this year and the opposition does not see this visit favorably.