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Macron Heads to Africa in Apparent Push to Reboot France’s Clout in Region

  • Lisa Bryant

FILE - French President Emmanuel Macron arrives at the Felix Eboue airport in Cayenne, Guiana, Oct. 26, 2017. Macron heads to Africa Monday on a three-nation tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in Burkina Faso late Monday - the first stop of a three-day Africa tour aimed to reinvigorate what observers see as France’s fading influence on the continent. Lisa Bryant has more on Macron’s trip that also takes him to Ivory Coast for an EU-Africa summit and to English-speaking Ghana.

Security, jobs, the environment and migration are among key themes of President Emmanuel Macron’s trip to the three West African countries - with an overall focus on youth.

On Tuesday morning, he’s expected to outline his Africa policy in a much- anticipated speech before 800 students at the University of Ouagadougou. Africa’s youth will also be a key theme at the EU-Africa summit in Ivory Coast on Wednesday — the next stop on Macron’s itinerary.

And again, when he makes the first trip by a French president to Ghana, and meets with youngsters in Accra, accompanied by former Ghanaian football player, Abedi Pele.

Security is another top priority. France has more than 7,000 troops deployed across Africa — including those hunting down Islamist militants in the Sahel, in cooperation with the new regional African counterterrorism force that Macron helped to launch.

The French president is also pushing development to address insecurity — and the floods of migrants still heading to Europe.

“One of the things that Macron has announced is that he wants official French development aid, the figures, to go up again...,” says Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, who heads the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Lafont Rapnouil added that "in connection precisely with the fact that he knows that even if military operations are successful in the Sahel - whether it’s the French or Sahelian operations— even if we’re successful in Central Africa or with Boko Haram, the military success will not be enough to solve the crisis and stabilize the situation.”

Macron drew criticism during his first trip to Mali in May, when he bypassed the capital, and again during a July speech during the G-20 summit when he said, in his words, that "civilizational" problems and women having too many children were hampering African development.

The young president is also trying to break from the past. He has created an ‘Africa Presidential Council’ made up of entrepreneurs with myriad backgrounds and often dual nationalities. His keynote speech in Burkina Faso is set to contrasts with France’s last two presidents, who delivered theirs in Senegal. And at 39, he was not even born when former French colonies received their independence.

Whether he can reboot France’s image in Africa is uncertain. This week’s trip will be a first test.

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