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Emmanuel Macron in Gabon: the era of “Françafrique is over”, says the French president

The French president is taking part in the One Forest Summit in Libreville with several Central African heads of state, at the start of a four-day tour of the region.

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Emmanuel Macron and his Gabonese counterpart, Ali Bongo Ondimba, Wednesday March 1, 2023 in Libreville.  LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday (March 2) in Libreville, Gabon that the era of “Françafrique” was “over” and that France was now a “neutral interlocutor” on the continent.

“This age of Françafrique is over and I sometimes have the feeling that mentalities are not evolving at the same pace as us when I read, I hear, I see that France is still attributed intentions that  she doesn’t have, that she doesn’t have anymore,” he told the French community.  “We still seem to expect positions from her that she refuses to take and I fully assume that.  In Gabon as elsewhere, France is a neutral interlocutor who speaks to everyone and whose role is not to interfere in exchanges [on] domestic policy, “he hammered.

Diminishing influence

The Gabonese opposition has accused the French president in recent days of “softening” President Ali Bongo by making this visit to Libreville in the midst of an election year in Gabon.  “I didn’t come to invest anyone.  I only came to show my friendship and my consideration to a country and a brotherly people,” insisted Emmanuel Macron.

The Head of State had already outlined in a speech in Paris on Monday the end of the French “pre-square” in West Africa and called for new partnerships on the continent, far from opaque ties and support for the leaders in place.  inherited from the colonial period and inherent to “Françafrique”.

Taking the example of the summit for the preservation of tropical forests, co-organized by France and Gabon on Wednesday and Thursday in Libreville, Mr. Macron repeated his desire to “build a balanced partnership” and to “carry common causes” with  the countries of the continent, whether on the climate, biodiversity or the economic and industrial challenges of the 21st century.

He also assured that the reorganization of the French military system in Africa outlined on Monday constituted “neither a withdrawal nor a disengagement”, but an adaptation of “a system”, by redefining the “needs” of partner countries and  by offering “more cooperation and training”.

Election year

After Gabon, the French president will visit Angola, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In Angola, the Head of State will sign an agreement aimed at developing the agricultural sector there.

He will then make a brief stopover in Brazzaville, where Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled the Congo with an iron fist for nearly forty years.  A meeting which risks, again, appearing against the grain of his speech on Monday.

He will conclude his tour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a former Belgian colony but also the largest French-speaking country in the world, where President Félix Tshisekedi, in power since January 2019, is preparing for an election this year.

This step can also prove delicate when France is accused in the DRC of supporting Rwanda rather than Kinshasa, which is facing a rebellion in the east of the country.

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