France - Africa

Macron arrives in Burkina on the first leg of his first Africa tour

Philippe Wojazer, Pool, AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron (L) is welcomed by Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (R) at Ouagadougou airport, November 27, 2017.

Three civilians were wounded in Burkina Faso on Monday after a grenade was thrown at French troops shortly before President Emmanuel Macron touched down for the start of his first Africa tour.


The French president is embarking on a three-day trip of western Africa aimed at boosting France's regional influence, stemming the continent's migrant exodus and bolstering the fight against violent Islamist militancy in the Sahel.

The visit was marred by an attempted attack on French troops in the capital Ouagadougou just hours before Macron's arrival.

"Two hooded individuals on a motorcycle threw a grenade towards a French army vehicle" as it made its way to a barracks housing French special forces, a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Three residents were wounded, one seriously, in the attack that took place at 8pm local time (2000 GMT), the source added.

"The attackers' target was the French army vehicle, which was not hit," the source said.

Macron flew into Ouagadougou three hours later for a trip that will take in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast – two former French colonies that deposed strongmen leaders in recent years – as well as to Ghana.

Phasing out the CFA franc

Since his election six months ago, Macron has made a few nods to Africa. His first overseas trip was to Mali, where 4,000 French troops have been deployed to fight Islamist groups. He has apologised for some aspects of France’s colonial past and called for the gradual phasing out of the CFA franc – a currency pegged to the Euro used in 14 African countries that some see as a guarantor of stability but which others criticise for being a relic of colonialism.

Making true on a campaign promise, he set up a special council on Africa (CPA) this summer made up of young business people with ties to both France and Africa. These special advisers have been meeting up once a week since August to advise him on how to bolster France’s image on the continent.

These counsels will be part of the French delegation following Macron this week.

“They will observe how the speech is received on Tuesday, and over the next few months, they will take part in the implementation of the pledges that Macron will make. Following up on the speech is for us just as important as the speech itself,” French government sources said.

First French president to visit Ghana

After Burkino Fasso, Macron will attend an African Union-European Union Summit in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast on Wednesday and Thursday. The focus will be on migration and security but the summit is likely to be overshadowed by revelations of slave auctions in Libya by CNN last week. The network’s footage drew criticism across the continent about politicians’ failure to do more against human trafficking.

In Abidjan, the president will also lay the cornerstone of the city's metro system for which Paris has provided a €1.4 billion ($1.7 billion) loan.

The French leader’s last but significant stop on Thursday will be in Ghana, a stable former British colony out of France’s sphere of influence. Macron is the first French president to go to this West African nation, where he hopes to boost economic ties.

A former investment banker and fluent English speaker, Macron will be able to draw on his own experience. As a student, he interned for six months at France's embassy in Nigeria.

“The choice of Ghana will illustrate our approach to Africa and our ambition to build ties with Anglophone Africa,” said a source close to the president. “He will outline a new vision of la ‘Francophonie‘ [a term used to describe a network of French-speaking countries around the world similar to the Commonwealth] that is less defensive, but a factor of integration between Francophone and Anglophone Africa.”

But Macron’s efforts may struggle to convince.

“Nearly 60 years after African independence, France and Francophone Africa remain entangled beyond separation,” wrote researchers Meera Venkatachalam from the University of Mumbai in India and Amy Niang from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, after the French president was elected in May.

“French companies still have a quasi-monopoly over the most strategic areas in Francophone economies. Examples include electricity, telecommunications, infrastructure, airports and harbours. France’s continued influence on Francophone African foreign policy is apparent in Africa’s policy alignments.”

“Macron is a neo-liberal and former investment banker determined to open Africa up for greater trade, even amid security concerns. His first visit outside Europe was to French military forces in Mali. Some see this as a sign that his presidency may have an increasingly militaristic impact on Africa. Macron’s sober view of colonial history therefore should be taken with a pinch of salt, as he’s unlikely to loosen France’s grip over Africa,” according to Venkatachalam and Niang.

Too young to have known the colonies

Macron, however, does differ from his predecessors in at least one regard: his youth. He was born long after most French colonies became independent in the 1960s and so far has not rekindled the old networks of Francafrique.

“We have a president who has never known the colonies and never had those close links to the region’s leaders. He has more freedom to say what he thinks,” one diplomat told Reuters.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning