Emmanuel Macron arrived in Libreville on Wednesday for a four-day tour of central Africa, intended to usher in a new era in the relationship between France and the continent where anti-French resentment continues to grow. The head of state landed in the Gabonese capital in the early evening and immediately headed for the presidency for a dinner with his counterpart Ali Bongo, noted a journalist from Agence France-Presse.
He also announced a reduction in the French military presence, focused for ten years on the fight against jihadism in the Sahel, but which has become the embodiment of the colonial heritage in the eyes of a youth eager for "new" independence. "Africa is not a backyard," hammered the French president, advocating a "posture of modesty and listening" following on from his speech in Ouagadougou in November 2017.
Emmanuel Macron says he now wants to rely on civil society and the African diasporas to turn the page on "Françafrique", long made up of troubled links and support for local potentates. "Our interest is first and foremost democracy," he insists, also promising to "defend French economic interests" where many countries, from China to Turkey, are advancing openly. The exercise promises to be delicate in Gabon where the opposition accuses him of "doubting" through his visit President Ali Bongo, elected under controversial conditions in 2016 and likely candidate for re-election this year.
To survey the non-French-speaking lands of Africa and to broaden France's horizons on the continent, the Head of State will also sign an agreement in Angola on Friday aimed at developing the agricultural sector there. He will then make a brief stopover in Brazzaville where President Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled the Congo with an iron fist for nearly 40 years, a meeting which again risks appearing against the grain of his speech on Monday.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a former Belgian colony but also the largest French-speaking country in the world, will undoubtedly offer him a better opportunity to unfold his vision of Africa. But here too President Félix Tshisekedi, in power since January 2019, is preparing for an election this year, and the opposition does not see this visit favorably. "Macron assassin, Putin to the rescue", also chanted on Wednesday a few dozen young Congolese, Russian flags in support, accusing France of supporting Rwanda against Kinshasa in the rebellion raging in the east of the DRC.