Macron welcomes President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire to the Elysée in Paris on 11 June for a meeting and press conference. The Ivorian president has enjoyed warm relations with France for years, leading his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, to accuse the French of helping Ouattara topple him following 2010's disputed election / Photo: Côte d'Ivoire Communication Gouvernementale

French president under fire for his diagnosis of Africa’s problems

People of African descent are reacting angrily to French President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial remarks about Africa during a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg on 8 July.

Macron was asked by Philippe Kouhoun, an Ivorian journalist for Afrikipresse, how much the world’s leading economies were ready to spend to help Africa under Germany’s “Marshall Plan for Africa”

The French leader’s reply has set the social media abuzz with many questioning his analysis of Africa’s challenges, which he blames on “civilizational” problems and a high birth rate, among others.

A transcript of his full remarks is as follows:

“The challenge of Africa, it is totally different, it is much deeper, it is civilizational, today. What are the problems in Africa? Failed states, complex democratic transitions, demographic transition, which is one of the main challenges facing Africa…

“It is then the roads of multiple trafficking which also require answers in terms of security and regional coordination, trafficking drugs, arms trafficking, human trafficking, trafficking in cultural property and violent fundamentalism…

“Islamist terrorism, all this today mixed up, creates difficulties in Africa. At the same time, we have countries that are tremendously successful, with an extraordinary growth rate that makes people say that Africa is a land of opportunity

“A successful demographic transition when countries still have seven to eight children per woman — you can decide to spend billions of euros, you will not stabilize anything.”

The French president’s analysis has been severely criticized for being racist and a rehash of the typical Eurocentric attitude to Africa.

Macron, since his election has been to Africa twice – specifically to Mali, first to meet with French forces engaged in the anti-terrorism fight in the West African nation.

He recently returned from a security summit in Bamako where he met leaders of the Sahel region and co-launched a counter-terrorism force for the Sahel.

During a visit to Algeria in February 2017, Macron described France’s colonial past as a ‘crime against humanity.’

The 39-year-old rode, who led his En Marche! Movement to win the presidency in May, had therefore been expected to offer a new French approach to Africa.

Macron’s remarks in Hamburg however fall into a tradition of the French political establishment’s condescending attitude and which point to every cause of the continent’s difficulties other than colonialism and its enduring legacy. In a Dakar speech in 2007, President Nicolas Sarkozy had controversially claimed that “the African has not fully entered history.”  

These statements by the likes of Macron and Sarkozy, say critics, amount to a post-legitimization of European colonial occupation of Africa with its supposed  “civilizing mission”. However, colonialism was a brutal system of oppression and exploitation, whose effects are partly responsible for the problems that contemporary Africa faces.

Femi Awoniyi

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