Cornered by African youth, Macron intends to repair FrancAfrique | New

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Cheikh Fall did not hesitate last week when he met French President Emmanuel Macron during a plenary session of a France-Africa conference.

“I asked Macron to apologize to Africans, to stop giving power to African dictators and to stop pseudo paternalistic cooperation,” the Senegalese social entrepreneur told Al Jazeera, recalling the exchange.

Fall was one of the many young Africans who peppered Macron with unfiltered criticism of France during Friday’s event, seen as part of the French president’s attempt to reshape his country’s relations with the former colonies in the continent.

In a bid to leave behind the infamous legacy of FrancAfrique – an obscure network of French politicians and ten-year-old African elites aimed at maintaining French rule in postcolonial Africa – Macron invited hundreds of young men from business, artists and researchers at the Montpellier meeting – but no African heads of state or government.

Since coming to power in 2017, Macron, 43, has presented himself as the standard bearer of a new generation that aims to open a new chapter between Paris and its former colonies after a long and troubling history that haunts the Contemporary France on this subject. daytime.

But specific examples from this troubled past apparently caught him off-guard on stage as he awkwardly listened to young Africans who attacked Paris’ “arrogance” and “paternalism” in its asymmetrical relations with African countries and the world. ‘urged apologies for the colonial era. crimes.

Cornered by frank criticism, Macron promised an honest assessment of the colonial past. “We need to recognize this responsibility and take it on,” he said.

“It’s part of our past and part of the relationship.”

Analysts said the conference took place as Macron aimed to deflect attention from ties to the colonial past, with France finding itself in a fierce competition for power with the growing involvement of China, Russia and the United States. Turkey in its “backyard”.

In this sense, the French president took a number of measures, including commissioning a report which revealed that Paris bears “crushing responsibilities” for the Rwandan genocide and was “blind” to the preparations for the 1994 massacres during of which about 800,000 people were killed.

However, as much as the report marked a rare confession by the French state, it also cleared Paris of any complicity in the genocide and carefully blamed then-President François Mitterrand instead of the French state itself.

In addition, Macron adopted another state report on colonial rule in Algeria which recommended the creation of a “memory and truth” commission, but excluded official apologies for the crimes committed.

Macron also agreed to return some of the artifacts stolen from African countries during colonization; declassify the secret files on the assassination of the anti-imperialist leader of Burkina Faso Thomas Sankara; and reform, not eliminate, the CFA franc, a French-backed currency used by the former French colonies in West Africa and seen by many as a symbol of neo-colonialism.

Nathaniel Powell, an analyst at Oxford Analytica, said such steps were symbolic, not structural, gestures.

“They illustrate Macron’s longer-term soft power aspirations to overcome anti-French sentiment while maintaining France’s centrality as a privileged African partner,” Powell told Al Jazeera.

He said there was a conflict between these aspirations and the security interests of the French state.

“None of the steps can change the ‘hard’ aspects of the relationship – support for autocracies, ambivalence about democratic aspirations, a mindset hyper-centered on security interests, and some kind of autocratic political stability that benefits those interests. . As long as these remain the pillars of France’s African policy, then nothing else matters much, ”said Powell.

In fact, many former French presidents, such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, attempted to reshape France’s engagement in Africa but ended up leading military operations on the continent.

Professor Bruno Charbonneau, of the Royal Military College of Canada Saint-Jean, said it was no coincidence in pointing out the historical legacies that define the ties between France and several African countries.

“Three structural factors always come into play: one, the French army has an institutional interest in perpetuating French military engagement in Africa, or at least in perpetuating the intervention capacity; and he also has a lot of influence on the policy and decision-making process as it relates to Francophone Africa, ”Charbonneau told Al Jazeera.

“Second, whatever the context or the situation, French-speaking African elites expect France to step in and be part of the discussion, knowing that they can fall back on Paris for help,” he said. he declared. “Finally, at the UN Security Council, France is recognized as a pen-holder and diplomatic head for everything relating to French-speaking Africa.

Yet France found itself increasingly at loggerheads with many of its former colonies, facing waves of growing discontent.

Earlier this month, Macron sparked a new crisis with Algeria when, according to French daily Le Monde, he said the former French colony was ruled by a “politico-military system” and its official history had been “totally rewritten”. based on “hate speech towards France”.

The Algerian presidency quickly responded to Macron’s “insulting” remarks, while Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said France must “decolonize” its history and free itself from certain attitudes that are linked to an ideology that has normalized ” the crime against humanity which was the colonization of Algeria, Mali and the colonization of so many Africans ”.

Meanwhile, in Mali, reports of a possible deployment of mercenaries hired by the controversial Wagner group to the country added another layer to the already strained ties between Paris and the soldiers behind two shots. Military status since August 2020.

France, which has deployed more than 5,000 troops in the Sahel region, strongly opposes such a move, fearing that the mercenaries would undermine French-led military operations against armed groups affiliated with ISIL (ISIL ) and al-Qaeda.

On the other hand, the Malian leaders present the possible deployment as “plan B” in the fight against armed groups, accusing France of “abandoning” Mali following its decision to reduce its troops by about half and close military bases.

The growing tensions also came at a time when anti-French sentiment has become very popular among Malians who accuse Paris of not containing the escalation of violence and of pursuing a hidden agenda.

Macron’s approach to military takeovers in Mali and Chad has also led many to question France’s priorities in the region. While the French president strongly rejected the two coups d’état in Mali and called for democratic governance, he quickly approved the military takeover in Chad following the death of President Idriss Deby, a key figure in the apparatus. security forces in the region for decades.

For Ndongo Samba Sylla, a Senegalese development economist, last week’s conference was just a new image of France’s neocolonial engagement with Africa.

“The reality is that Francafrique is running out of steam and needs a new look. France is inventing its African civil society and co-opting its own African intellectuals in order to give the illusion of change, ”Sylla told Al Jazeera.

“What credibility can we give to this rebranding exercise when Macron himself does not hesitate to chew on French civil society and destroy democratic expression in French-speaking Africa by supporting military coups and dynastic successions “he asked.

Nonetheless, Fall hopes the event will help forge healthier relations between France and African countries.

“It’s a way to breathe new life into the relationship. I want the summit to be a new platform to redefine relationships, ”Fall said. “It is time to define the possible futures of FrancAfrique.


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