Macron on the Spot as Formerly French Africa Boils Over
Group of center-right lawmakers assail France’s ‘disappearance’ from Africa under French president’s leadership.
While President Macron is enjoying a three-week vacation at the Fort de Brégançon — a medieval castle island in the south of France where he once welcomed President Putin — he is taking the heat for a dangerously laissez-faire attitude toward events in Africa. A group of 94 French senators penned a letter to Mr. Macron in which they bemoaned the collapse of French influence in Africa, where it once held considerable colonial sway in places like present-day Algeria and Niger, under the French leader’s inattentive gaze
The letter, sent by the center-right Sénat les Républicains parliamentary group, notably contained the taunt that “we do not give up on France’s steady disappearance from the African continent” — implying that Mr. Macron has.
The impetus for the missive was the July 26 coup d’état in Niger, the landlocked but large former French colony that saw the overthrow of President Bazoum. A military junta calling itself the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland has resisted American and international entreaties to restore Mr. Bazoum to power. It has shut down the country’s airspace in anticipation of a wider conflict and promised to “defend the integrity of our territory.”
The group of French senators blasted the Élysée Palace for allowing what they consider “French Africa” to become “militarily Russian Africa, economically Chinese Africa and diplomatically American Africa.”
“Today Niger, yesterday Mali, Central African Republic and Burkina Faso rejected France, French troops and French companies. After the failure of the Barkhan operation, the Wagner militias come at our expense,” the open letter says (in French), “with little concern for human rights or democracy, but perfectly available to all dictators or leaders who maintain power by uniting their populations against the old ‘colonial power.’”
In August 2014, France launched its Operation Barkhane to combat Islamist militants in Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad, where the French military forces involved — numbering at least 3,000 — were headquartered. The operation formally ended in November 2022.
The Malian coup d’état of May 2021 was that country’s third in a decade. The coup of September 2022 in Burkina Faso happened just eight months after an earlier one.
The French senators also blasted Mr. Macron over developments in North Africa: “President Abdelmadjid Tebboune [of Algeria], who came to power under difficult conditions due to the Hirak [an Algerian protest movement], blows hot and cold, sometimes speaking of rapprochement … and sometimes of the French ‘Great Satan’ responsible for all the evils of the Algerian people. This pendulum swing is pushing many French officials to question the 1968 agreements, which no longer have any meaning.”
The Franco-Algerian agreement of 1968 was meant to settle issues related to Algerian nationals on French territory. Algeria fought a bitter war with France, the former colonial power, between 1954 and 1962.
“In Morocco, the French procrastination over Western Sahara (while Spain and Germany have recognized Moroccan sovereignty) and the tightrope policy of the Quai d’Orsay with Algeria, push the Royal Palace to look elsewhere for military or economic partners than Paris,” the lawmakers complained. And “in Tunisia, the erratic President Kais Saied turns alternately to the United States, the European Union, the Arab world, and less and less to France, which no longer has a privileged role.”
They pointed out that anti-French sentiment is sweeping sub-Saharan African too, and that “demonstrations and anti-French actions are already taking place in countries known to be close to us such as Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.”
The parliamentarians also lambasted the government for, in their view, attempting to mask its failures by accusing dissenters of nostalgia for a “French Africa” policy that implies informal tutelage over former colonies. “Monsieur President,” they wrote, “we are not dreaming of a new French West Africa or French Equatorial Africa. But we do not understand the evolution of French policy in Africa both on the military level and as regards cultural and linguistic cooperation.”
“It is probably time, when Africa, a friendly continent, no longer seems to understand France, and is increasingly contesting its role and its presence,” they concluded, that “it is time to review our vision of Africa and its link with France.”
Responding to publication of the letter in Le Figaro, France’s armed forces minister, Sébastien Lecornu, disputed the accusation that Operation Barkhane was a flop but he acknowledged the need to “learn lessons, as in all crises and all military operations.”
French influence and prestige in Africa is clearly on the wane, but things like a preference for English over French and burning French flags at demonstrations are probably the least of President Macron’s concerns. Nearly 1,500 French military personnel are still stationed at an air base at Niamey as Niger flirts with complete anarchy. There are a thousand troops parked in adjacent Chad.
Mr. Macron is taking a long holiday, but once it is over he may find the political heat from Africa to be more stifling than forecast at Paris, too.