President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday said the era of French interference in Africa was “well over” as he began a four-nation tour of the continent to renew frayed ties.
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.
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“The age of Francafrique is well over,” 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 mindsets 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,” he added, ahead of an environment summit in Gabon the first leg of his trip.
.”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.
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.
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– Military revamp –
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France has in the past year withdrawn troops from former colonies Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic.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 pullout from Mali and Burkina Faso, where its soldiers were supporting the Sahel nations to battle a long-running jihadist insurgency, came on the back of a wave of local hostility.
In his remarks on Thursday, Macron insisted the planned reorganisation was “neither a withdrawal nor disengagement”, defining it as adapting to the needs of partners.
These fields of cooperation included fighting maritime piracy, illegal gold mining and environmental crimes linked to regional drug trafficking, itself fuelled by a “terrorist movement” in the Lake Chad area, he said.
More than 3,000 French soldiers are deployed in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Djibouti, according to official figures.
The proposed revamp concerns the first three bases but not Djibouti, which is oriented more towards the Indian Ocean.
Another 3,000 troops are in the Sahel region of West Africa, including in Niger and Chad.