On October 8, the Africa-France summit was held in Montpellier at the initiative of President Emmanuel Macron. In difference to usual summits devoted to Africa, this time only the youth of the continent has participated in the gathering. There were no African presidents, and the event was symbolically led by Macron himself.
Macron’s key idea during the summit was to soften anti-French sentiments and to present himself as a friend to the youth of Africa. He wanted to show that he was not afraid of dialogue. But the skeptical reactions of the participants themselves showed that the plan had failed.
Macron refused to apologize for colonizing Africa, and showed that he has long-term plans for the exultation of the continent. “Alone we go faster, together we go farther. This African proverb accurately describes the spirit of the Montpellier summit,” he hinted.
An uneasy start: protests and arrests
Not everyone liked Macron’s initiative. The summit was preceded by protests against the holding of the event under French patronage.
An initiative group including experts (in politics, economics, migration, etc.) and patriots called for a boycott of the Macron summit and announced a counter-colloquium to be held on October 2: the conference “For the Cancellation of the France-Africa Summit”. Organizers suggested canceling the summit because it expresses French interests in African countries and called Montpellier “a showcase for colonialism.” Participants also demanded that Macron cancel African debts and withdraw French troops from Africa.
In response, the organizers of the Montpellier summit decided simply to keep the dissenters out of the summit. Moreover, according to activists, some dissenters were physically arrested on the eve of the event so that they would not ask uncomfortable questions to Macron’s face.
The remaining activists organized their own “anti-summit” to express dissent.
Macron, who is losing popularity among Africans for his neocolonialist activities, even recruited popular intellectuals to participate in the forum – in order to create the illusion of a real debate. Thus, Senegalese intellectual Achille Mbembé, known for his criticism of Macron and Françafrique, was appointed as organizer of the summit – an unexpected step for many. He himself explained his participation by saying that France was too detached from the “new movements and political and cultural experiments” carried out by African youth, and noted that of all the debates, none was as destructive as France’s alleged support of tyranny on the continent.
Also speaking on one of the panels was Kako Nubukpo, a renowned political scientist and economist.
However, the participation of renowned experts did not help.
“We don’t need help, we need cooperation”: accusations of racism, colonialism and paternalism
In a column published on Seneplus, the Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop details, why Africans view the Montpellier Summit skeptically.
According to his assessment, on the eve of the summit they only created the illusion that Macron would be called to the TV camera and asked uncomfortable questions about military interventions, the trickery of currency and plundering natural resources. And so it turned out – on October 8, Macron appeared only on the final panel, where he was criticized for colonialism, arrogance, paternalism, and in general for continuing the policies of Françafrique.
In Diop’s assessment, Macron publicly denounces “anti-French sentiment” in an attempt to rehabilitate Paris’s image by taking some kind of “anti-colonial” measures. But in fact, he understands that he has inherited a political system of Franco-African relations that cannot be lost. As former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini ironically put it: without his stranglehold on Africa and the CFA franc, France would rank 15th among world economies, not in the top six – a clear hint to Paris’s long-term plundering of the continent’s resources.
Perhaps this is why Macron tried to bet on a new generation.
Kenyan activist Adelle Onyango explicitly accused him of continuing the destructive colonialist past. She called on the president to commit himself to putting an end to Françafrique.
“We as Africans feel the pain of colonization every single day,” Adelle Onyango, a Kenyan media figure, told to Macron during a panel discussion. Accusing France of living in “denial” of its “destructive past”, “Our conclusion is skepticism of what exactly does France stand for”, she said.
“[France] itself is mired in issues of racism, and it comes to teach us lessons in democracy? We find that a bit arrogant”, said Onyango.
Macron, on the other hand, simply decided to change the vocabulary. At first, colonialism was called “aid” to Africa, but now Macron suggested calling it “solidarity investment”.
The participant from Burkina Faso, Eldaa Koama, compared the relationship between France and Africa to a “dirty pot”, where she would not eat from. Macron suggested to wash the pot, but there are bound to be traces left behind, meaning we cannot erase history.
“Stop your paternalistic speech! We don’t need help, we need cooperation”, said a young Malian participant, Adam Dicko, not hesitating to interrupt the president.
At the same time, Macron refused to apologize for his country’s colonial past in Africa. Well-known Senegalese blogger Cheikh Fall called on Macron to ask forgiveness from the African continent for the crimes of colonization and to stop cooperating with dictatorial presidents. “And stop cooperating and collaborating with these dictator presidents! And plan a gradual and permanent withdrawal of your military bases in Africa!”
But Macron refused. “I do not believe in a policy of forgiveness, at least in the link that exists between France and Africa. I do, however, believe in a policy of recognition.”
Guinean Aliou Bah called to refuse cooperation with those who use constitutional intervention to stay in power on the continent.
Another uncomfortable issue was the topic of Chad and France’s support for the coup, which showed Paris’ double standard. Macron went out of his way to say, evasively, that “transition does not mean transfer.” There was an unhappy reaction in the room to this answer.
During the summit, the French president announced the creation of an innovative fund for democracy. The goal: to support actors of change, particularly on issues of governance and democracy. Which is ridiculous, given the powerful corruption among pro-French African elites, and France’s support for dictators.
The audience reacted to this proposal with extreme skepticism. “I don’t think a democracy fund is going to change anything,” Anass Maïga, a member of the federation of civil resistance organizations in Gao, told RFI. There are questions about its effectiveness, especially in the event of a coup, Maïga added.
Other outcomes of the summit include the announcement of a 10 million euro fund to support African startups. This speaks volumes about the extent to which France is trying to keep its former colonies to extract resources. That said, the number of millions of euros France makes on resources it steals from Africa is incomparable to this paltry sum.
Macron also boasted on Twitter that France is returning several cultural treasures back home to Benin from its conquests.
Macron and his African scandals
It was not Macron`s first fiasco in African dialogues. In the last month alone, he has already been caught twice in diplomatic scandals with African countries. First, he insulted Algeria in an interview with Le Monde, calling its history rewritten and the nation non-existent before French colonization. Algeria reacted by recalling its ambassador from Paris. Macron then aggravated relations with Mali by saying that without French intervention, terrorists would have come to power in Mali – after which the French ambassador to Bamako was summoned because of unfriendly remarks.
Such words are particularly painful in the case of Mali, where terrorists and jihadists have only strengthened their position since 2013 (with France’s participation in “anti-terrorist” operations in the Sahel zone). In fact, the Barkhan military operation did not save the continent from terrorism, but only covered up the military’s true objectives: unchecked theft of local resources.
Macron received a sharp blow, when the Malian prime minister accused France of supporting terrorism. While the French leader tried to shore up Paris’ shattered reputation during the Montpellier summit, Choguel Kokalla Maïga accused France of supporting terrorists in his country.
On the eve of the French presidential election, Macron is betting on a domestic audience and blowing a nationalist horn in order to win back political points from the electorate of right-wing candidates (Marine Le Pen and others). But in doing so, he finally spoils relations with Africa – perhaps a good thing for the continent paving way for liberation from the colonizers.
Protests against Françafrique are becoming wide-spread
No matter how much Macron tries to bet on an “anti-colonial” image, protests against the French presence on the continent are increasing every year.
For example, in Senegal in March 2021, angry young people attacked the companies Total, Orange, Eiffage and Auchan, just because they were French. On September 22, 2021, a big demonstration took place in Mali against the French intervention, with the participation of the local activists’ organization Yerewolo Standing On The Ramparts, Adama Ben Diarra, the well-known pan-Africanist Kemi Seba and other prominent anti-globalists.
Seba also reacted very negatively to the Montpellier summit.
“My problem is not even Macron, but the idiotic participation of these few Africans, handpicked, thirsty for recognition, and who without realizing it, become part of a narrative of renewing of French neocolonialism”, he said.
Another activist, Nathalie Yamb, commented:
“Anti-French sentiment does not need to be fed. It is inherent in all those who fight for African sovereignty and dignity. You cannot be pro-Africa if you are not viscerally anti-French. Only fools love their torturer, their rapist or their colonizer, Only fools want to argue with him. There is no need for dialogue. We want a clean break: France out.”
François Mitterrand once said – without Africa, there will be no history of France in the 21st century. Without France, however, Africa’s history could become a prosperous one in the 21st century. The continent would enjoy its own rich resources and become an equal partner for sovereign states in a multipolar world.