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Au Revoir Françafrique? Macron Tries To Bury The French Colonial Mindset In Africa

French President Emmanuel Macron has outlined a new policy for France's relationship with Africa, recognizing the need for a departure from post-colonial mindsets. But he faces challenges at home and abroad.

Photo of ​France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) welcoming his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall (R) at the Elysee presidential palace before their bilateral meeting, in Paris on June 10, 2022.

Macron welcomes his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall at the Elysee last June

Ludovic MARIN / AFP
Pierre Haski


PARIS — One cannot accuse Emmanuel Macron of being unaware that Africa has changed — and that France's approach to the continent must change too. As early as his election in 2017, the French President expressed this sentiment in a speech to students in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, and reiterated it last year at the Africa-France Summit in Montpellier, where he once again spoke to the younger generation.

He has finally outlined the contours of a new policy that breaks with a colonial past, which is still not forgotten, before embarking on an important trip to Central Africa (Gabon, Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo) on Wednesday.

The problem is that changing direction is particularly difficult when burdened with the weight of colonial and post-colonial history, as well as France’s misguided old reflexes.

Furthermore, this change is happening at a time when Paris is on the defensive: the forced withdrawal of French troops from Mali and Burkina Faso and the information war being waged by Russia are just the visible part of the problem.

The underlying unease runs much deeper.

Existential stakes

To address this, Macron called on Monday for a change in mindset, with a strong conviction that Africa is the future of France and Europe. He warns against allowing the growing chorus that speaks of a divide between the North and the so-called Global South to take hold, especially in light of the war in Ukraine.

For the French President, the stakes are existential. "For a country like ours, it would be terrible," he says, if we were unable to find our place on a continent that is both our neighbor and one of the coming great centers of the 21st century in terms of demography, economy, and culture."

Decades of such practices cannot simply be undone by a mere announcement.

But challenges remain, starting with the need to convince people that French policy has truly changed. "France no longer has a 'pré carré'," he says, referring to the concept of Françafrique, a zone of influence where France made and unmade regimes.

Decades of such practices cannot simply be undone by a mere announcement.

Photo of Emmanuel Macron with presidents of Mauritania, N\u00edger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Spain.

Emmanuel Macron with presidents of Mauritania, Níger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Spain.

Pool Moncloa / Borja Puig de la Bellacasa

France's African identity

Macron announced Monday a profound reform of the French military approach in Africa, which will be one of the tests of the new approach.

France can count on three major assets in this "return" to Africa. The first is its strong African diaspora in France, which Emmanuel Macron wants to use as a bridge, defying national reluctance. "We must embrace France's African identity," he repeats, a statement that will undoubtedly rub some people the wrong way.

The second is the Europeanization of African policy, and the President is taking two European Commissioners on his trip. Europe helps to temper the knee-jerk reaction to France, and allows for a critical mass for infrastructure projects, for example.

The third is more of a wish than a reality: that French society reinvests in Africa, in business, cultural circles, and civil society. This is not the case today, and it is a national weakness. A new approach to Africa will be possible if, paradoxically, it escapes the state and its constraints. This is a huge challenge.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why The U.S. Lost Its Leverage In The Middle East — And May Never Get It Back

In the Israel-Hamas war, Qatar now plays the key role in negotiations, while the United States appears increasingly disengaged. Shifts in the region and beyond require that Washington move quickly or risk ceding influence to China and others for the long term.

Photograph of U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken  shaking hands with sraeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

November 30, 2023, Tel Aviv, Israel: U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Chuck Kennedy/U.S State/ZUMA
Sébastien Boussois


PARIS — Upon assuming office in 2008, then-President Barack Obama declared that United States would gradually begin withdrawing from various conflict zones across the globe, initiating a complex process that has had a major impact on the international landscape ever since.

This started with the American departure from Iraq in 2010, and was followed by Donald Trump's presidency, during which the "Make America Great Again" policy redirected attention to America's domestic interests.

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The withdrawal trend resumed under Joe Biden, who ordered the exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021. To maintain a foothold in all intricate regions to the east, America requires secure and stable partnerships. The recent struggle in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrates that Washington increasingly relies on the allied Gulf states for any enduring influence.

Since the collapse of the Camp David Accords in 1999 during Bill Clinton's tenure, Washington has consistently supported Israel without pursuing renewed peace talks that could have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

While President Joe Biden's recent challenges in pushing for a Gaza ceasefire met with resistance from an unyielding Benjamin Netanyahu, they also stem from the United States' overall disengagement from the issue over the past two decades. Biden now is seeking to re-engage in the Israel-Palestine matter, yet it is Qatar that is the primary broker for significant negotiations such as the release of hostages in exchange for a ceasefire —a situation the United States lacks the leverage to enforce.

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