How France’s Macron shaped African policy

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa, according to Macron

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Wednesday, 6 April 2022 15:39

It had been six months since the new French president had settled into the Élysée Palace. On 28 November 2017, Emmanuel Macron was visiting the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. Before an amphitheatre of students, he said: “France no longer has an African policy.”

This is part 1 of an 8-part series

The young audience returned his regard with an aspect half-amused, half-circumspect. And for good reason: for the previous hour, Macron had been discussing what France should – or should no longer – do on the continent, particularly in terms of its relations with the countries from its former colonial sphere.

Cooperation, migration, the CFA franc, colonial history… Macron covered quite a few themes in the speech, which would serve as the roadmap for his African policy through the end of his five-year term. Like his predecessors, the Fifth Republic’s youngest president boasted the ambition of “rebuilding” relations between France and the countries of the continent. His advisers termed it as “changing the software”. No simple task.

Emblematic moments

Just as he did in Ouagadougou, the French head of state has often innovated on form, by constantly seeking to develop new formats and gateways between France and Africa. However, in terms of substance, he has also often given in to realpolitik when it comes to managing the political and military crises that have threatened French interests.

What can we take away from his five years as president? What has been the African policy according to Macron? From his “unabashed” visit to Algeria in December 2017, to his failed trip to Mali four years later, we have chosen seven dates as emblematic moments of his term in office.

With less than a week to go before the first round of the presidential election, this series does not pretend to offer an exhaustive assessment of Macron’s actions, but rather to explain the major inflections. Since the outgoing president is also considered the favourite in the race, it also gives us an opportunity to sketch out what the main lines of French policy in Africa could look like in the coming years.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options
Also in this in Depth:

Algeria-France: When Macron shook things up… including Bouteflika

On 6 December 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron made a whirlwind visit to Algiers. Eager to distinguish himself from his predecessors, he not afraid to break taboos or offend his interlocutors. Has it changed anything?

Macron banks on Nigeria’s energy to give France new options in Africa

Can Nigeria provide a new path for France in Africa, away from the heavy security commitments of the Sahel, and the difficult historic relationships with former colonies? 

Restitution of African art: Despite the controversies, Macron keeps his promise

On 23 November 2018, Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr submitted their report on the restitution of artwork pillaged from Africa during the colonial period. This step can be credited to the French president, who opened up a debate that had long been kept under wraps.

Chad: When realpolitik caught up with Macron at Déby Itno’s funeral 

When French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Chad to attend the funeral of Idriss Déby Itno and endorse the seizure of power by his son, one thing was clear: Paris needed N'Djamena as much as N'Djamena needed Paris.

Rwanda: Macron attempts a high-risk reconciliation in Kigali 

During French President Macron's presidency, he has been set on repairing old wounds with the continent. One in particular has been engaging with Rwanda's Paul Kagame who has always pointed a finger to France for its role in the 1994 genocide.

Macron buries the concept of ‘Françafrique’ at Montpellier summit 

It was 8 October 2021 and the French president had organised a summit to which his African counterparts were not invited. An innovative approach in form, which probably didn’t change the Franco-African relationship in any depth, but speaks volumes about Emmanuel Macron’s style. 

Mali: Macron and Goïta, a tale of broken ties

Relations between the French head of state and the Malian junta started off rather promising. Emmanuel Macron and Assimi Goïta were supposed to meet on 20 December 2021 in Bamako but the visit was cancelled, signalling a breakdown between the two countries.