France-Africa relations: is the link broken forever?

France’s foreign policy now goes through… Twitter and Facebook. Thursday, Emmanuel Macron ordered the French ambassadors, gathered at the Élysée, to be “more reactive” on social networks to counter “anti-French propaganda” orchestrated by Russia, China and Turkey. Its purpose, in particular: to restore the image of France in Africa.

Because in the last few months, new music has been ringing in the streets of some African countries that were once considered partners: “Down with Emmanuel Macron”, sing some, “Outside France”, shout others.

Behind these demonstrations against the former colonial power hides a broken bond. The end of Françafrique has been very proud of the various tenants of the Elysée since the rise of the independence of the African States.

Soldiers from Operation Barkhane, in Mali, on December 14, 2021.

“The decline of French influence in Africa is irreversible and irreversible”, assures Vincent Hugeux, journalist and teacher at Sciences Po, specialist in Africa. Whether its contribution is economic, military or political, France is no longer accepted. Latest example so far: Mali, where Barkhane’s last soldiers packed up stealthily on August 15.

Barkhane, or the stagnation of France in Africa

Context switching

This decline in Africa relieved France of a certain weight on the international scene. Its former allies are now leaning on Russia and China. “France has, in the UN, a block of African votes that is almost taken away,” explains Vincent Hugeux. The economic, political and diplomatic influence is that it can make the African countries of the former colonial French-speaking pre-square vote as one person. “The situation has changed. In May, when it was necessary to decide to condemn the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, many of them – including Algeria, Central African Republic, Mali and Senegal – did not.

But should we regret the collapse of this unique bond that unites France and its African partners? Not at all, for the English researcher Paul Melly, consultant on the Africa program of Chatham House, a famous international relations think tank based in London. According to him, we should not talk about “decline”, but “logical evolution” of French influence in Africa.

The context is very different now. Many evolved in Africa. The expectations of young urban Africans are very different

Paul Melly (researcher-consultant in the Africa program at Chatham House)

President Emmanuel Macron understands this. He now defends a new approach to the relationship between France and the continent, which has long been dominated by economic and military relations, and is now more centered on memory and cultural heritage.

Memory method

“We must recognize Emmanuel Macron on merit, regarding the memory, historical and symbolic dimension, who has done more than all his predecessors of the Fifth Republic combined”, emphasizes Vincent Hugeux, who regrets that the efforts of the President are always evaluated by diplomatic blunders – such as when the president questioned the existence of a nation in Algeria before colonization, resulting in anger in Algiers.

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But by recognizing the responsibility of the State in the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, by returning the cultural property of Benin or even by launching a work of memorial reflection in Cameroon and Algeria, Emmanuel Macron shows that ” the context has changed”. the France-Africa relationship. For Paul Melly, this new diplomatic approach will pay off in the long run. Paris has no other choice: tensions must be eased to reconnect with the special relationship she cherishes so much.

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