Professor Adekeye Adebajo is Director of the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation. He recently penned an opinion article that featured in the Business Day: 7 June 2021.
Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to Africa shows how France has continued a politque de grandeur in which a country in perpetual decline pretends to be a Great Power. Despite rhetorical posturing to be pursuing a new relationship with Africa, France has defended the Déby family autocracy in Chad. It has meddled in oil-rich Libya on the side of the warlord, General Khalifa Haftar. Macron’s notorious and prejudiced 2017 description of Africa’s challenges as “civilizational,” and his derogatory statement that African women having seven or eight children were “destabilising” the continent, echoed Nicolas Sarkozy’s racist 2007 speech in Dakar.
The French president has arrogantly described his leadership style as “Jupiterian.” He recently invited 22 African leaders – including those of South Africa and Nigeria – to Paris to pay obeisance to the resident of Mount Olympus. Paris hosted a summit on Financing of African Economies which would restructure Africa’s $417 billion external debt, but most of this cash will be provided by multilateral and larger donors. Macron also visited Rwanda and South Africa in the last week. France had trained and armed the genocidal Hutu-led militias before the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which about 800,000 people were killed. His visit to Kigali saw him asking for forgiveness for France’s sordid role while stopping short of a full apology. Engaging in sophistry, Macron noted that his country bore “overwhelming responsibility” for the genocide, but then astonishingly argued that it had not been complicit in the massacres.
In South Africa, the French president pushed for expanding production of COVID-19 drugs in Africa and lifting patents on existing medicines. However, Macron was opposed to the waiving of patents until US president, Joe Biden, recently announced his support. His blustering boastfulness of wanting to vaccinate 40% of Africa’s population, contrasts greatly with his own government’s badly bungled initial COVID response involving widespread shortages of masks, sanitizers, and protective equipment.
Perhaps nothing better symbolises the continuing Gallic delusions of grandeur than its utterly failed counter-terrorism war in the Sahel. This may well turn out to be France’s Afghanistan. The armies of five client states – Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania – have mostly been the cannon fodder sustaining hundreds of fatalities, while thousands of civilians have been brutally killed, and two million displaced. Macron’s hectoring, omniscient style has not gone down well in Africa. He spoke out of both sides of his mouth in condoning the coup d’état in Chad in April, and only a few weeks later, condemning the military putsch in Mali. Anti-French protests have taken place in N’djamena, Dakar, Abidjan, and Ouagadougou.
Macron faces a tough re-election campaign next year against the fascist Marine Le Pen. He has thus engaged in tawdry “dog-whistle politics.” Railing against Islamic “separatism,” he successfully pushed a law to gain more control over Muslim schools and mosques. Macron and his ministers have also vociferously stoked Islamophobia by branding what they dub “Islamo-leftism” as a threat to French society. The government has further sought to demonise efforts to explore the crimes of French slavery and colonialism.
Despite Macron’s grandstanding as a global leader, France has not been in the front ranks of global power for eight decades. Its seat on the UN Security Council is anachronistic. It is the seventh largest economy in the world, behind India and likely to be overtaken soon by Brazil. France’s national debt at $3 trillion – a staggering 115.7% of its GDP – is also one of the highest in the world. The country has consistently failed to contribute 0.7% of its GDP to foreign aid. Paris has thus sought to get the UN and the EU to stomp up the cash to subsidize its African adventures. This is, however, not a sustainable strategy. The Sahel may well represent the graveyard of the French gendarme in Africa.
*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg