Analysis. In response to Lavrov’s tour, the French president is trying to re-establish solid economic relations with the former colonies and beyond. In Cameroon, a ‘friendly’ meeting with Paul Biya, a dictator rehabilitated out of necessity.

Macron repositions France in Africa to confront Russian ambitions

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Guinea-Bissau, after Cameroon and Benin and before flying back to Paris to receive bin Salman, concluded his small African tour, his first official trip since taking office in his second term.

The main objective, as described explicitly by the Elysée Palace, was to “reposition France on the African continent in the face of Russian ambitions,” while also promoting the international Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission (FARM) initiative launched in March for the development of African agricultural production.

Macron’s visits came at the same time as those of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and they were something Macron was very intent on in order to “revive diplomatic relations and create new economic agreements with countries historically linked to France,” as he stated at Tuesday’s joint conference in Yaoundé together with his Cameroon counterpart, 89-year-old Paul Biya.

After being welcomed on Monday evening by Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, Macron was received at the presidential palace in Yaoundé by Biya in a meeting described as “friendly and fruitful” for future bilateral relations between the two countries. This was a major sea change, given that only two years ago the French president had criticized Biya, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for more than 40 years, for “repeated human rights violations in the Anglophone northwestern part of the country (Ambazonia)” that aspires to independence.

Speaking about France’s colonial past, Macron in Yaoundé called for “joint work by Cameroonian and French historians” to “shed light” on France’s actions in Cameroon during colonization and after independence. The French president did not explicitly admit France’s guilt, but announced the opening of the national historical archives, as requested in recent days by some Cameroonian political parties that had called on him to acknowledge “the crimes of colonial France.”

Macron and Biya discussed the jihadist threat, as northern Cameroon is heavily affected by the presence of militants from the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP). The same topic was discussed with Benin’s President Patrice Talon, with the country facing a proliferation of deadly attacks in recent months by the various jihadist groups seeking to expand from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea.

The discussions were in line with Paris’s new strategy of “rethinking French military intervention with greater involvement by African countries,” also given the poor experience in Mali and the gradual withdrawal of the anti-jihadist Barkhane force from the country, scheduled for mid-August.

On Wednesday, a new series of coordinated attacks in Mali, following those of last week, again struck several military bases (Sévaré, Sokolo and Kalumba) in locations near the capital Bamako, resulting in the deaths of 15 more Malian military personnel and three civilians. “These attacks are a symptom of the steady growth of jihadist groups in the Sahel and a wake-up call for the entire area, as the use of Wagner mercenaries and the violence by the Malian military has exponentially increased the number of people who are enlisting in the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM),” said Seidik Abba, an expert on jihadism.

Macron’s tour ended on Thursday in Guinea-Bissau, a small West African country plagued by chronic instability – mostly linked to drug trafficking – and whose president, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, is preparing to take the helm of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

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