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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: Russia-Ukraine War

The Science Of Designing A Sanctions Model That Really Hurts Moscow

On paper, the scale of sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine is unprecedented. But opinion on the impact of sanctions remains divided in the absence of a reliable scientific foundation. A new study by Bank of Canada offers a way out.

Photo of people walking past a currency exchange rate board in Moscow on July 20.

People walking past a currency exchange rate board in Moscow on July 20.

Ekaterina Mereminskaya


The world has never seen sanctions like those imposed against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. There have been targeted sanctions, of course, or sanctions against rogue countries like North Korea with wide support from the international community. But never in history has there been such a large-scale sanctions regime against one of the world’s biggest and most important economies.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Here's the thing though: these sanctions were introduced in a hurry because the West needed to respond to the war decisively. No one calculated anything, they relied on generalizations and holistic visions, they were “groping in a dark room,” as Elina Rybakova, senior researcher at the Brussels think tank Bruegel, put it.

As a result, debates around the effectiveness of sanctions and how best to use them to influence Russia continue to do the rounds.

Supporters of sanctions have a clear and unified message: we must stop Russia from being able to continue this war. We must deprive them of the goods and technologies necessary for the production of weapons and military equipment, and prevent Russians from living normal lives.

Opponents argue that the sanctions backfire. They insist that Russia is a large enough economy, highly integrated into the energy market and international supply chains, and therefore has enough resilience to withstand restrictions. Those who impose sanctions will be the ones to lose markets and suppliers. They will face increased energy prices and countless other problems. Russia will be able to replace lost relationships with new and even stronger ties with other states.

Economists at the Bank of Canada have attempted to resolve this debate and figure out who is hit hardest by sanctions. They pieced together a model featuring three parties: a country imposing sanctions, a country against which they were imposed, and a third independent country.

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