Why is France facing so much anger in West Africa

Mali has witnessed multiple protests against France

All this is such a positive beginning. Where is the mistake? Why is France now so unpopular in Africa?

French President Emmanuel Macron increased aid to the African continent and began Return cultural relics stolen during the colonial war And go beyond the usual government-to-government ties to involve the younger generation and civil society.

He made the French army stationed in the Sahel to fight the jihadist militants who killed so many local civilians, police and soldiers, and supported the Economic Community of West African States in trying to defend electoral politics from military takeover.

This year he flew to Rwanda Publicly acknowledged France’s failure in the 1994 genocide.

However, his country has now become the target of resentment and criticism from the African people, and its scale may be unprecedented.

Last month, a convoy of French troops traveling north to support the fight against Islamic militants was repeatedly blocked by protesters as they passed through Burkina Faso and Niger.

In September, after Mr. Macron began to reduce the deployment of the army in Mali, Malian Prime Minister Georgel Mejia delivered a speech at the United Nations, accusing France of “abandoning his country in the middle”, and received a wave of sympathetic comments. nation.

It is now commonplace among progressive West African commentators and urban youth Hear the call to abolish the CFA franc -The regional currencies used by many French-speaking countries are linked to the euro under the guarantee of the French government. Its critics say that this allows France to control the economies of the countries that use it, while France says it guarantees economic stability.

The arrogance of neocolonialism

What explains this paradox? How can a president who cares more about Africa than his recent predecessors and understands the changes that are taking place in the African continent better than France’s unpopularity that has never been felt in decades?

Of course, Mr. Macron’s self-confidence-critics would say arrogance-personal style is a factor.

Cameroon-born curator Koyo Kouoh (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron speak on the issue of the return of African heritage at the illegal summit in Montpellier, France, October 8, 2021

Despite reaching out to Africa, President Macron still faces strong opposition

He has made diplomatic mistakes.

Rear In November 2019, 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in Mali He asked West African leaders to fly to France to participate in an emergency summit. This outbreak is seen as the arrogance of neocolonialism, especially because Mali and Niger have recently suffered more severe military losses.

President Macron was forced to quickly modify the route and fly to Niamey, the capital of Niger, to pay tribute to the Nigerian soldiers killed in Niger and postpone the summit until January 2020.

But the reasons for the current discomfort in France have also been delayed to several decades before the 2017 election of Mr. Macron.

“You can cite historical controversies related to colonization. Many of us are the children of parents who understand the colonial period and its humiliation,” explained Sylvain Ngesan, an Ivorian political analyst.

In the early decades after independence, France maintained a close network of personal connections with African leaders and elites-known as “françafrique”-which often fell into mutual protection of vested interests, with little consideration of human rights or transparency. .

Among the external forces, the collusion with allies of the dictatorship is far more than Paris, but their relationship is particularly close and beyond doubt.

Charm and change

The most serious failure occurred in Rwanda in 1994, when France even failed to act as an ally, and the regime of then President Juvenal Habyarimana began preparing for genocide.

On September 16, 2017, Dakar, Senegal, a man raised his fist during an anti-colonial demonstration against the regional CFA franc

CFA is a colonial currency that is still used in several former French colonies in Africa

Since the mid-1990s, some governments have been committed to reforming France’s relations with Africa and paying more attention to development and democratic governance.

But the momentum was shaken later.

Nicolas Sarkozy (Nicolas Sarkozy) began his presidency in 2007, when he said that “Africans have not fully entered history”, but his speech is extremely lacking in skill. He favors old allies such as the Bongo family that has ruled Gabon since 1967.

When François Hollande became president in 2012, he had no choice but to focus on the security issues in the Sahel-a piece of land south of the Sahara Desert. He has never really had the political power to revive reform efforts.

But with Mr. Macron taking office, the French president is fully aware of the need for change-and accomplishes this task with political influence and personal enthusiasm.

In 2017, he told students in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, that France will support the reform of the CFA franc if the African government is willing. He also invited people from civil society, youth and cultural circles to participate in the Franco-African summit held in Montpellier this year instead of the usual group of presidents.

Sahel-festering wound

However, even among those calling for change, his willingness to speak frankly, challenge old structures and question comfort assumptions is not always good.

On November 10, 2019, French soldiers monitor rural areas during an operation in northern Burkina Faso on the border with Mali and Niger

Although France has launched counter-terrorism operations, militants are still a major problem in the vast Sahel region of West Africa

In addition, the situation in the Sahel has deteriorated into festering wounds.

France’s military presence has caused widespread dissatisfaction throughout West Africa.

Despite large-scale and sustained military efforts — more than 5,000 soldiers were deployed and more than 50 people killed — France failed to decisively overcome the threat from jihadists, and their attacks on local communities and security forces continued .

The reasons are complex, including military and social, environmental and economic.

However, a considerable part of local public opinion believes that France, as a high-tech military power in the West, should have “sorted out” the problem and made concessions if it failed to do so.

These emotions seem to have inspired the protesters who blocked the French army convoy.

As Mr. Engelsang pointed out, this happened after the earlier causes of resentment: “Sakozzi’s speech in Dakar, Macron’s speech in Ouagadougou; the war in Côte d’Ivoire; the order of the anti-terrorist movement Frustrating results.

“Issues about currency, debt, support for local dictators and poor wording.”

People were holding signs written in French:

France is still regarded as the backbone of the Old Guard-even if it supports democratic institutions

But the underlying social and public factors will also affect the attitudes of some people.

A senior Sahelian military officer said that he considered France to be an ally of former separatist rebels in Tuareg in northern Mali-an allegation that was strongly and credibly denied in Paris.

France’s support for the West African regional organization ECOWAS also has similar complications-the organization is currently trying to pressure the coup leaders in Mali and Guinea to quickly restore the country’s civilian constitutional rule.

More and more young people see regional blocs as current presidential clubs. They have been reluctant to criticize civilian rulers who manipulate democratic rules, and they are unwilling to acknowledge the public’s support for military leaders who have promised reforms.

Therefore, in supporting ECOWAS as a legitimate African crisis management agency, France was ultimately seen as the backbone of supporting old-school institutions.

Paul Melly (Paul Melly) is a consultant for the Chatham Institute Africa Project, a think tank in London.

For more information on fighting the Sahel jihadists:

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