This forced return to the past puts a brake on another aspect of the President's ambition for France’s relationship with Africa: rapprochement with non-French speaking African countries. This is evidenced by visits to Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, where Macron was in November 2017, July 2018, March 2019, and May 2021, respectively. While the youth delegation that exchanged with President Macron on October 8 included one English speaker (from a total of 11) from Kenya, it was primarily a discussion where Francophone Africa was "holding France accountable", as some noted, and such an event would likely not have taken place in other former colonial countries.
The diaspora: between relations with Africa and electoral stakes
President Macron hoped to make the so-called diaspora, i.e. the nearly 7 million French people (of 1st or 2nd generation) whose lives are linked to Africa, the cornerstone of the relationship with the continent. This is why he set up the Presidential Council for Africa as soon as he came to power, made up of personalities from civil society and for the most part from the diaspora, whose goal is to feed the President's African policy. The Montpellier Summit (a city where the university hosts a chair of African diasporas) was a similar part of this line of action, highlighting "France's share of Africanness".
On the one hand, France is banking on its comparative advantage over its Russian and Turkish competitors, for instance, whose history is not as intertwined with that of the African continent. The President has for instance committed to working more on the recognition of the key financial role played by this diaspora, by building a framework for private financing flows with Africa, alongside the AFD and the banking systems.
But on the other hand, it also responds to French electoral issues, as Antoine Glaser and Pascal Airault have demonstrated in their book published in April, Le piège africain de Macron (Macron’s Africa Trap). This is even more the case given the current pre-electoral period. Emmanuel Macron, likely to run for office a second time, defies another likely candidate, far-Right Eric Zemmour when he denounces people "who think that history can be changed, falsified, that universal values can be relativized, including in our own country, in the French debate". The young Franco-Africans present on stage did not miss the opportunity to press him about the lack of visible diaspora among ambassadors, public media CEOs, or directors of theaters and museums. With his French-Cape Verdean Minister Delegate Elisabeth Moreno at his side - whom he recalled had joined the government following her intervention at a meeting of the diasporas organized in 2018 with the President of Ghana -, he conceded the long way to go and took up Achille Mbembe's proposal for a House of African Worlds and Diasporas to house "the African part of French genius."
Finally, an important aspect of the renewed relationship that the French President wants with Africa is his desire to increase interactions between the continent and Europe as a whole. This has been manifested in the area of security, through the creation of the Takuba Task Force in the Sahel, bringing together European forces. The question arises, however, as to how this continent-to-continent relationship could exist alongside France's particular relationship with Africa - or at least with part of it. Although the Elysée invited representatives of Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen and of European Council President Charles Michel to Montpellier, there was no mention of Europe in the discussions. France announced its intention to organize a Europe-Africa Summit during its presidency of the EU Council. IWe would need to wait until February 2022 to have concrete answers on this plan.
It appears at the end of the Montpellier Summit that if Emmanuel Macron, fond of this type of exercise, was able to establish a good contact with these 11 young people selected, they were not there to pat the French President on the back. They insisted that this summit was a starting point for a new relationship, and that it will be up to the Africans themselves to reinvent it.
Copyright: Ludovic MARIN / AFP
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