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Macron pledges to reduce French military presence in Africa

President’s comments come ahead trip to continent as Paris seeks to counter growing Chinese and Russian influence

France is to reduce its military presence in Africa and transform its bases into partnerships with African soldiers, Emmanuel Macron has said ahead of a crucial trip to the continent this week.

The French president’s comments came as anti-French sentiment runs high in several former colonies in the Sahel, and Paris seeks to counter growing Chinese and Russian influence on the continent.

“The [military] bases as they exist now are a heritage from the past,” Macron said. He promised to “Africanise” the bases in the coming months. Some would become “academies” that would be co-run by French and African armies. The number of French soldiers would go down, but there would be increased efforts on training and equipment.

This “reorganisation … does not intend to be a withdrawal”, he said, adding: “We will remain, but with a reduced footprint.”

The promise to overhaul France’s military bases comes in the wake of France’s recent withdrawal from Mali and Burkina Faso after military coups led to fallouts with Paris. First, the ruling junta in Mali led to French troops leaving last year, then army officers running neighbouring Burkina Faso followed suit last month, asking Paris to empty its garrison of about 400 special forces.

France, which for a decade was at the forefront of operations against Islamist insurgents in the Sahel, has about 3,000 troops in Africa, down from more than 5,000 two years ago.

Macron said France must show “deep humility” in Africa, amid what he called an “unprecedented historic situation” of security challenges and the climate crisis.

But after some African countries criticised France for failing to curb Islamist militancy in the Sahel region, Macron said he would not allow France to become the “ideal scapegoat” for local political problems on the ground.

The French president has been under pressure to step up his Africa policy since a landmark speech he gave to students at a university in Burkina Faso six years ago, in which he pledged to break away from France’s former post-colonial policies in Africa and criticised the “crimes of European colonisation” promising a “truly new relationship” between Africa and Europe.

After the African independence movements in the 1950s and 60s, Paris had still intervened regularly in the domestic affairs of its former colonies and for decades retained sway through business and political ties under an unofficial policy known as “Françafrique”.


Macron said the era of Françafrique was firmly over but acknowledged there was more to be done to boost Paris’s relationship with African countries. He added that a new law would go before the French parliament in the coming weeks to fix a “method and criteria” for returning artworks to African countries from French museums.

The permanent French military presence in Africa, as well as the existence of common regional currencies underpinned by the French central bank, had become targets for criticism and fuel for populist politicians.

As France faces rivalry from Russia in Africa, Macron said he refused to be drawn into an outdated competition between powers for control of Africa. But he hit out at the Russian mercenary Wagner group, which is present in Mali and Central African Republic, calling it the “life insurance of failing regimes in Africa” saying it was waging a “predatory” drive for mines and natural resources and committing violence against civilians, including rape.

When the United Nations on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to demand Russia immediately withdraw its troops from Ukraine, three of the four countries Macron will visit this week – Gabon, Angola and Congo-Brazzaville – abstained, alongside China and India.

Source : The Guardian