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07.05.2019 Africa

Focus On Africa: French Macron Promised "New Relationship" With Africa

By William Niba - RFI
Yoan Valot/AFP
MAY 7, 2019 AFRICA

In 2017, the new French president Emmanuel Macron promised a new era in French-African relations, stating his desire to partner with, and not dominate African states Two years into his tenure, the new relationship is still not clear.

On his election, Macron vowed to make the African continent the cornerstone of France's foreign policy.

But over the past two years his agenda to resolve historical grievances has been hampered by controversial military interventions in the continent and difficulties in calling time on the controversial "Françafrique" dispensation.

Coming to Idris Deby's rescue

One of Macron's most-criticised moves was a series of airstrikes launched in February against Chadian rebels by French fighter jets stationed in the country. As one expert put it, France is in Chad to support the “war on terror”, yet its most recent targets have all been political rebels.

His first year in the Elysée Palace was dogged by accusations of paternalism and contempt over remarks he made about the rather high numbers of children delivered by African women and “civilisational” problems holding Africa back.

While he has struggled to maintain close and often complex ties with France's former African colonies and the wider region, during his second year in office, his second year in office has been marked by diplomatic tensions with some traditional allies trying to do business with other partners.

Politics not economics

Despite President Macron's declared intent to engage all of Africa in a great multilateral new deal, he hasn't succeeded in breaking with the age-old tradition of propping up former colonies that held sway in Paris.

In an irony of sorts while France spends 1.3 billion euros on the battle against Islamist extremism in the Sahel, experts says he is charting an African policy based on politics and not enough on the economy.

“He is right to want to draw up a new vision but it was much too ambitious and not very realistic,” says Francois Gaulme, associate researcher at the Paris-based French Institute for International Relations IFRI.

On the clamour rising from French-speaking Africa for the disbanding of the CFA Franc, Gaulme notes that the system which favoured French products at its inception 70 years ago has been rendered irrelevant after the entry of China and Germany in the African market.

Chinese investments in Africa reached 37.4 billion euros in 2016, against about 7 billion for France relegating the former colonial power into Africa's sixth trading partner over the same period. Even Germany overtook France in terms of exports to Africa making 8.3 billion euros as opposed to 5.6 billion euros for France.

In the wake of the diplomatic tensions sparked by the growing challenge of French interests in former colonies, the IFRI researcher told RFI it was a lost fight because many French products are not competitive on the African market.

Battle over the CFA Franc

Francois Gaulme also reacted to the raging debate about how the colonial currency is limiting the monetary independence of African countries and giving rise to “Francophobia” across the continent.

According to the researcher, Macron made it clear after taking office that it was up to the Africans to change or abandon the CFA system.

“Macron is certainly the most open French President on Franc CFA issue”, Gaulme says.

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