French President Emmanuel Macron has begun a three-nation tour of African states in the first trip to the continent since winning re-election as he seeks to reboot France’s post-colonial relationship with the continent.
Macron’s July 25-28 tour will start with a visit to Cameroon, before moving on to Benin and then Guinea-Bissau.
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The tour “will show the commitment of the president in the process of renewing the relationship with the African continent”, said a French presidential official, who asked not to be named. It will signal that the African continent is a “political priority” of his presidency.
In Cameroon, which has been riven by ethnic violence and an armed operation by anglophone separatists, Macron will meet President Paul Biya, 89, who has ruled the country for almost 40 years and is the longest-serving non-royal leader in the world.
Biya has run the country with an iron fist, refusing demands for federalism and cracking down on the rebellion by separatists.
According to French state media Radio France Internationale (RFI), Macron is seeking to revive economic ties between his country and Cameroon – where French economic influence has been dwindling. In the 1990s, French companies represented 40 percent of the economy, whereas in 2021, that figure has dwindled down to 10 percent.
This has to do with the emergence of other powers seeking a foothold in an area Paris still considers part of its sphere of influence – notably Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but also increasingly China and Russia. Paris is also battling the rise of anti-French sentiment in countries like Mali, Chad and the Central African Republic.
“Admittedly, the country still hosts 200 companies and subsidiaries of French groups, in areas as diverse as oil exploitation, timber, agro-industry or distribution,” said RFI, “but French investments are on the decline.”