French President Macron begins Africa tour in Gabon
By Elizabeth Pineau
LIBREVILLE (Reuters) – Emmanuel Macron landed in Gabon on Wednesday, the first stop of an Africa tour that will also take the French President to Angola, Congo Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Macron’s trip, his first to all four countries as President, follows the launch of a new Africa policy and is focused away from France’s troubled former colonies in West Africa’s Sahel region where anti-French sentiment is rising.
Spiralling insecurity there has spurred military takeovers in Mali and Burkina Faso, two hotbeds of jihadist activity, whose ruling juntas have butted heads with France as well as with other regional and Western allies.
Macron announced the withdrawal of French troops from Mali a year ago after its junta began working with Russian mercenaries, while Burkina Faso last month ended a military deal with France.
In a speech on Monday, Macron proposed a fresh approach, promising that French military bases in Africa would be co-run with host nations with fewer French troops on the ground.
He also said this week’s Africa tour would not be political and his schedule, which includes a speech at a high-level forest summit in Libreville on Thursday, suggests a focus on the environment, culture and scientific research.
While only two of Macron’s stops, Gabon and Congo Republic, are former French colonies, some in Gabon’s capital Libreville were sceptical of his motives.
“What is Macron doing in Gabon? Is he coming for the forest or to back (President) Ali Bongo?” asked Kevin, a 39-year-old technician who did not wish to give his full name.
“If Macron wants to support the Bongo family, we will rise up,” he said. “Gabon is an independent country. It is not France that appoints Gabonese presidents.”
Meanwhile in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), hundreds protested in front of the French embassy in the capital Kinshasa to denounce France’s alleged support for Rwanda, which Congo accuses of backing a rebel group. Rwanda denies this.
Macron is scheduled to fly to Angola on Thursday evening, Congo Republic on Friday and DRC on Saturday.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Additional reporting by Justin Makangara in Kinshasa; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Alessandra Prentice, Richard Chang and Alexander Smith)