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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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Does This Italian Scientist Know When Iceland's Most Dangerous Volcano Will Erupt?

Originally from Tuscany, Sara Barsotti has spent the past decade leading the task force monitoring Iceland's major volcanic eruption threat, following all the warning signs as her family evacuates the small town they've been calling home.

Photograph of Iceland's Fagradalsfjall volcano

Iceland's Fagradalsfjall volcano

Mokslo Sriuba/Wikimedia
Federico Taddia

Updated Nov. 15, 2023 at 6:15 p.m.

REYKJAVÍK — "We haven't slept since Friday; we're extremely tired. We look at each other, colleagues with red eyes and contorted faces, forcing each other to go home and rest for a few hours. But then the phone never stops ringing, the situation keeps changing, and our minds are always there, trying to understand what is happening and what will happen."

When Sara Barsotti speaks, it's clear that she hasn't lost her Tuscan accent. It's ever-present as she coordinates the volcanic hazard task force from the operational center of the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) – Iceland's volcano observatory. It's the same accent with which she reassures her three children who have felt yet another earthquake in their Reykjavík home, advising them to go to the supermarket to get sushi for dinner because "mom will be very late, and the fridge is empty."

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While she communicates in English with other volcanologists, seismologists, and mathematical model experts in a seemingly endless series of meetings, she switches to Icelandic to update Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir on the evolution of the emergency.

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