OUAGADOUGOU - French President Emmanuel Macron met with university students in Burkina Faso Tuesday, as he kicked off a three-day trip to West Africa.
He is the first French president in three decades to visit Burkina Faso.
President Emmanuel Macron spent three hours on Tuesday at the University of Ouagadougou, discussing migration, climate change and terrorism with a room full of students.
In his remarks, the French president said he would pursue equal partnership with African nations, breaking with the more paternalistic relationship of old, a relationship between France and its former colonies known as the “francafrique.”
Many in Ouagadougou welcome the change.
Patigadawende Kaboré, a government worker enjoying his lunch in a canteen near Ouagadougou’s city hall, said times have changed. He says he would like to tell Macron that the generation you are dealing with today is different from the ones that went before.
Security was a key concern during Macron's visit. Police and army patrolled around all the main arteries, including the Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, scene of two major terrorist attacks in the past.
In his university address, President Macron was full of praise for the regional French anti-terrorist force Barkhane. The force has been criticized by Burkinabe civil society groups, who call it an example of neo-colonialism.
"The best policy is of course when a country runs its own security, said "Burkina Faso government spokesman Rémi Fulgano Dandjénou. "But the fact remains that the problems that are happening in the Sahel region concerns not only the countries in that region. This means that not only the Sahel countries but also France, the EU, the United Nations play their part."
France has been busy drumming up international support for the newly created G5 force, which it hopes can take over the war on terror in the Sahel. The G5 is comprised of troops from five African nations, including Burkina Faso.
Back at the university, Macron engaged in a lively debate with students following his speech.
The students, inevitably, brought up names from the past: Thomas Sankara, the slain revolutionary leader and a national hero, and Norbert Zongo, the journalist allegedly killed on the order of Francois Compaore, the younger brother of ex-president Blaise.
Macron said all remaining documents on the murder of Thomas Sankara in the 1987 coup that brought Blaise Compaore to power would be declassified. However, he said he could not guarantee the extradition of Francois Compaore, who is currently in France but was recently charged in Burkina Faso for his alleged role in Zongo’s murder.
Macron will head to Ivory Coast on Wednesday for a European Union-African Union summit expected to address migration. The French president will then wrap up his trip to the region Thursday in Ghana.