The evolving landscape of international relations and geopolitics has brought a renewed focus on Africa’s integral role in global dynamics. Key among the relationships with Africa is that of France, one of the most influential European nations, whose ties with the continent are deeply ingrained in a history of colonialism, political exchanges, and socio-economic relationships.
French President Emmanuel Macron has been at the forefront of this conversation, with his speeches and policies consistently advocating for a shift away from the paternalistic model of the past and towards one of mutual respect, reciprocity, and civil society engagement.
Shifting France’s Role in Africa
In a 2017 address to university students in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a shift in France-Africa relations. Speaking to an audience of young intellectuals, he emphasized a new approach grounded on reciprocity and strengthened civil society links, a vision that directly contrasted with the opaque ties of yesteryears.
Fast forward to this year, Macron rearticulated his vision in a speech prior to his visit to Central Africa. He reiterated his commitment to a “new, balanced, reciprocal, and responsible relationship” with Africa. This would involve not only a new approach to African economies but also a renewed dialogue with African societies.
In the context of France’s decision to wrap up its Operation Barkhane, the shift involves a lighter military presence on the African continent. Macron laid out his plans to ‘Africanise’ French military bases (excluding the Djibouti base which serves Indo-Pacific strategy), a move towards co-management and adaptable French response to African partners’ needs.
Re-examining France-Africa Relations beyond Security Concerns
This modification in approach illuminates the multifaceted nature of France-Africa relations. As Macron suggests, it has the potential to offer a model for broader Europe-Africa relations, a prospect increasingly relevant considering Europe’s growing recognition of Africa’s role in addressing global challenges.
France’s recent moves to acknowledge its colonial past in countries like Algeria, Rwanda, and Cameroon are remarkable steps towards this refocused approach. Macron expressed a desire for new draft legislation to bolster this policy further. The politics of memory is undoubtedly urgent and necessary, yet it is merely one facet of the broader dialogue between French and African societies.
Remarkably, France hosts the largest African diaspora in Europe, and Africa houses the most significant number of French speakers worldwide. Cultural and educational exchanges between the two have been on a steady rise, with France continuing to be the prime destination for students from Sub-Saharan Africa.
“I am from a generation that doesn’t come to tell Africans what to do.”– Emmanuel Macron, President of France
The shift in approach is not confined to socio-cultural aspects alone. Macron highlighted the possibilities of bolstering African entrepreneurship and advocating for more “solidarity and partnership-based” investments. All these efforts potentially culminate in a truly reciprocal, ambitious, and demanding partnership with Africa.
However, the challenge remains for France and other EU member states to operationalise this approach collectively. Paris will need to transition from a leadership role to a facilitating one, and the EU will need to recognize the benefits of a strategic approach to Africa.
As the world becomes increasingly fragmented, Europe’s approach to Africa must become more unified. A reimagined partnership based on shared interests and responsibilities could present an opportunity for EU, France, and other European countries to meet their common challenges.
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