French President urges businesses to take Africa seriously

The Chronicle




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FRENCH President Emmanuel Macron gave businesses in his country a public dressing down for their lack of ambition in Africa as he pressed for a reset in the relationship between his country and the continent.

“Too many of our companies aren’t doing the best they could. I won’t defend those that aren’t ready to fight,” Macron told officials and reporters ahead of a trip to Gabon, Congo, Angola and the Republic of Congo starting Wednesday.

He’s the first French president born after the end of the country’s colonial era. The influence of Macron’s government on the continent is being challenged by anti-French sentiment in some African countries, as well as their growing business and trade ties with Russia and China.

Officials in Paris have pointed to Russian disinformation campaigns and resentment linked to the French colonial empire to explain recent demonstrations in several nations, including Mali and the Central African Republic.

“The French economic world needs to wake up and fight,” Macron told an audience at the Elysee Palace including business figures close to him like Serge Weinberg, chairman of drug maker Sanofi, and Xavier Niel, the founder and owner of telecoms provider Iliad SA.

Other nations are gaining ground “because they are taking African countries seriously.”

Among his recommendations, he urged French businesses to send top executives when dealing with African heads of state, and to stick to the timelines of contracts.

“We believed that because we were France, even when we were bad, even when we were pricier, even when our financing solutions weren’t as good, we would still be chosen,” he said, referring to “a battlefield for competition.”

Macron said France’s relationship with the continent should move away from military ties, and focus on education and business, while openly defending Paris’s interests. From now on, Macron said, all French military bases will be jointly managed with African countries.

He added that France’s main bases won’t close.

“We can’t keep looking down at people,” Macron said. “It’s not like: We come to your place and do good. We are coming to defend our interests in a way that respects the interests of African countries.”

Military wind-down Macron is pulling troops from Mali and Burkina Faso, two countries that are increasingly leaning toward Russia. In Mali, French Barkhane forces have been pushed out by the ruling junta in favor of forces from Russian mercenary group Wagner.

While Macron has pledged to wind down France’s military presence and relocate it toward other countries including Niger, there are still some 3,000 troops in the Sahel region.

In a sign showing how sensitive the topic is, the French defense minister recently slammed the Marvel franchise Black Panther over its negative portrayal of French soldiers. French soldiers first entered Mali a decade ago to dislodge al Qaeda-linked militants from their northern strongholds in Gao and Timbuktu. Macron said that Paris would re-focus on training or advising African countries.

During his trip to central Africa this week, Macron is expected to again urge leaders to join in condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine. He plans to hold a conference about North/South relations in Paris in June.

The 45-year-old Macron has sought to build closer links with African countries traditionally outside France’s sphere of influence. He will attend a summit about forest protection in Gabon, a former French colony, before heading to the ex-Portuguese colony of Angola. While Congo-Brazzaville is a former colony, the Democratic Republic of Congo was ruled by Belgium.

Article Source: The Chronicle

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