French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Russia and Turkey of spreading anti-French sentiment in Africa by funding people stirring up resentment against France in the media.
“We must not be naive on this subject: many of those who speak, who make videos, who are present in the French-speaking media are funded by Russia or Turkey,” Macron said on Friday in an interview with the Jeune Afrique magazine, while accusing Moscow and Ankara of trying “to play on post-colonial resentment”.
He also said Turkey was contributing to misunderstandings over his defence of the right to draw caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
The comments referred to the brutal killing last month of a French teacher who was beheaded in broad daylight after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a class on freedom of expression. Any kind of visual depiction of the prophet is forbidden in Islam.
The killing further exacerbated already strained relations between Macron and the Muslim world, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggesting the French president undergo “mental checks” after Macron had described Islam as a religion “in crisis globally”.
Macron said: “When I decided to attack radical Islam … my words were distorted. By the Muslim Brotherhood, quite widely, but also by Turkey, which has the ability to influence a lot of public opinion, including in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Reiterating a position that has caused immense controversy in France and beyond over the past months, he added: “I am not attacking Islam, I am attacking Islamist terrorism.”
Tensions between France and Turkey have risen to new levels over a range of disputes in recent months, including Syria, Libya, the eastern Mediterranean and now France’s crackdown on “radical Islam”.
France has called for a total rethink of the European Union’s relations with Turkey, which under Erdogan in recent years has significantly built up its presence and influence in Africa.
Russia has also played an increasingly active role in Africa, with analysts pointing to the presence in several countries of the pro-Kremlin mercenary group Wagner.
In the wide-ranging interview, Macron also ruled out negotiating with armed groups in the Sahel region of Africa, where France has a thousands-strong force deployed.
“We don’t talk with terrorists. We fight,” Macron said, as debates intensify in France and Africa over the long-term strategy of its Operation Barkhane military force.
He said that France could talk to different political and other groups, but not armed groups “which continue to kill civilians and soldiers, including our soldiers”.
Macron on Guinea
Macron also accused Guinea’s President Alpha Conde of organising a referendum on constitutional changes “solely to be able to keep power,” adding that the situation in the country was “serious” following post-election unrest.
“It is for this reason that I have still not sent him a letter of congratulations,” Macron said.
Macron added he hoped to visit Rwanda in 2021 despite continued tensions with the country and its President Paul Kagame over the 1994 genocide.