The era of French interference in African affairs is “well over”, President Emmanuel Macron said in Gabon on Thursday during his four-nation tour of central Africa.
Speaking on the fringes of an environment summit in the Gabonese capital Libreville, Macron said France harboured no desire to return to past policies of interfering in Africa.
“The age of Françafrique is well over,” Macron said in remarks to the French community, referring to France’s post-colonisation strategy of supporting authoritarian leaders to defend its interests.
“Sometimes I get the feeling that mindsets haven’t moved along as much as we have, when I read, hear and see people ascribing intentions to France that it doesn’t have.”
Macron’s remarks followed criticism from civil society and opposition groups that his visit offered tacit support for President Ali Bongo, who is expected to run for re-election this summer and whose family dynasty has ruled for five decades.
“Francafrique” is a favourite target of pan-Africanists, who say that after the wave of decolonisation in 1960 France propped up dictators in its former colonies in exchange for access to resources and military bases.
Macron and his predecessors, notably socialist François Hollande, have previously declared that the policy is dead and that France has no intention of meddling in sovereign affairs.
Macron’s comments followed a speech on Monday when he said there would be a “noticeable reduction” in France’s troop presence in Africa “in the coming months” and a greater focus on training and equipping allied countries’ forces.
France has in the past year withdrawn troops from former colonies Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic.
The pullout from Mali and Burkina Faso, where its soldiers were supporting the Sahel nations to battle a long-running jihadist insurgency, came on the back of a wave of local hostility.
In Thursday’s remarks, the French President insisted the planned reorganisation was “neither a withdrawal nor disengagement”, defining it as adapting to the needs of partners.
The fields of cooperation included fighting maritime piracy, illegal gold mining and environmental crimes linked to regional drug trafficking, itself fuelled by a “terrorist movement” in the Lake Chad area, he said.
More than 3,000 French soldiers are deployed in Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon and Djibouti, according to official figures.
The proposed revamp concerns the first three bases but not Djibouti, which is oriented more towards the Indian Ocean.
Another 3,000 troops are in the Sahel region of West Africa, including in Niger and Chad.