Macron and the Future of Françafrique
France hopes to maintain its sphere of influence on the continent and counter Russia and China’s charm offensive. But it must rebalance relations with African countries, which requires decoupling growth and development objectives from security concerns and, equally important, transcending extractive colonial dynamics.
CAIRO – In early March, French President Emmanuel Macron visited four African states – Gabon, Angola, Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – on the resource-rich Gulf of Guinea. The trip, his 18th to Africa, was aimed at countering China and Russia’s charm offensive on the continent: both countries are bolstering their presence in places once considered part of France’s sphere of influence – pré carré français.
Before embarking on the tour, Macron candidly admitted that France was in a “period of transition” with its African partners, as it worked to develop relationships built on more than just security. But he was quick to add that none of France’s six military bases on the continent would be shut down as part of this rebalancing, underscoring the challenges that African countries face in disentangling economic growth and development objectives from security concerns, to which they have long been subordinated.
Macron’s insistence on the need to maintain France’s military presence in Africa (albeit with a smaller footprint) contrasts sharply with the views of young Africans, who are increasingly opposed to foreign military presence on the continent. Strangely enough, the French agree more with Africans than with their own president: a recent poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion (Ifop) found that 55% of the French favor closing their country’s military bases in Africa.