Macron says France ‘remains committed’ to Africa’s security on first leg of three-country tour

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday his country would support Africa’s need for security as he embarked on a three-country tour aimed at renewing France’s relationship with the continent.

Citing a long-standing grievance in France’s former African colonies, Macron also announced that French archives on his colonial era in Cameroon would be opened so historians could “shed light” on “painful moments”.

In a speech in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, Macron promised that France “will not renounce the security of the African continent”, where a jihadist campaign in the Sahel is now shaking countries in the south.

“France remains resolutely committed to the security of the continent, acting in support and at the request of our African partners,” Macron told an assembly of French expatriates.

France is reconfiguring its posture in the Sahel after falling out with the military junta in Mali, the epicenter of a bloody 10-year-old jihadist campaign in the region.

After a withdrawal from Mali that is expected to be completed in the coming weeks, the French anti-jihadist force Barkhane will have around 2,500 soldiers in the Sahel, just under half of the deployment at its peak, according to French officers.

The force will also make a tactical shift, acting more in a role of supporting local forces than leading, they say.

Macron landed on Monday evening for a three-day tour that will also take him to Benin and Guinea-Bissau.

He met on Tuesday with 89-year-old Cameroonian President Paul Biya, an iron-fisted leader in power since 1982.

In his speech, Macron said the reconfigured mission will extend “beyond the Sahel, to the Gulf of Guinea and to the countries of the second layer which now have to deal with terrorist groups that are expanding and shaking the entire region. “.

The jihadist insurgency began in northern Mali in 2012 and hit neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.

Across the region, thousands of people have been killed and more than two million have fled their homes.

Sporadic cross-border attacks have also taken place on southern coastal countries, raising fears of an expansion of jihadists towards the Gulf of Guinea.

Macron also pledged French support for countries fighting jihadists in the Lake Chad region, where an older insurgency launched by Boko Haram in Nigeria is also raging.

These include Cameroon, whose Far North region, which extends into the Lake Chad basin, has suffered repeated attacks.

“Political priority” Macron, during a press conference with Biya, said that the French archives on colonial rule in Cameroon would be opened “in full” and hoped that historians from the two countries would work together to investigate the “moments sore”.

French colonial authorities brutally suppressed armed Cameroonian nationalists before the country’s independence in 1960.

Macron, 44, is the first French president born after the colonial era and has repeatedly said he would shed light on the dark episodes of colonial rule.

These incidents have also fueled a narrative from critics who say he is once again intruding on the mainland under the guise of security.

Last year, France returned more than a dozen items looted from Benin by colonial forces, easing a source of friction between Paris and its former possession.

Macron’s stint through West and Central Africa is his first trip to the continent since his re-election in April.

France has watched with concern the emergence of Russia, China and others seeking to establish themselves in an area it still considers part of its sphere of influence.

The tour “will show the president’s commitment to the process of renewing relations with the African continent,” a French presidential official, who requested anonymity, said ahead of the trip.

This will signal that the African continent is a “political priority” of his presidency, the official said.

Macron also denounced on Tuesday “absurdities” which he said had made the rounds in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

“We are attacked by some people who argue that European sanctions (against Russia) are the cause of the global food crisis, including in Africa.

“It’s completely wrong. It’s just that food, like energy, have become Russian weapons of war,” he said.

He denounced “the hypocrisy, especially on the African continent” which denied that the conflict in Ukraine was a war.

(AFP)

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