French President Emmanuel Macron called on Monday for his country to build “a new, balanced relationship” with Africa, as the former colonial power seeks to reduce its military presence on the continent.
“The objective of this new era is to deploy our security presence in a partnership-based approach,” Macron said in a speech in Paris, ahead of a tour that will take him to Gabon, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo later this week.
In the future, French military bases on the continent will be “co-administered” with local personnel, the French president said, while there will be a “visible decrease” in the number of French troops stationed in Africa over the next few months.
The news comes as France has faced increasing opposition from local governments over its continued military presence in several of its former colonies, and was forced to withdraw hundreds of troops from Mali, the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso over the past year. Around 5,000 French soldiers remain stationed on various bases throughout the continent.
But Paris’ waning influence — particularly in the Sahel region — has also allowed Russia to expand its reach in Africa, including in the digital sphere through the use of disinformation campaigns, as well as on the ground with mercenaries from the Wagner group, who in some cases have replaced French soldiers.
The French president said his country would steer away from “anachronistic” power struggles in Africa, saying African countries should be considered as “partners,” both militarily and economically.
“Africa isn’t [anyone’s] backyard, even less so a continent where Europeans and French should dictate its framework for development,” Macron said.