By Enyichukwu Enemanna
French President, Emmanuel Macron on Monday commenced a three-nation tour of western African states in the first trip to Africa of his second term as he seeks to reboot France’s post-colonial relationship with the continent.
Macron will begin his July 25-28 tour, also the first venture outside Europe of his new mandate, with a visit to Cameroon, before moving on to Benin and then finishing the trip in Guinea-Bissau.
At the top of the agenda in the talks will be food supply issues, with African nations fearing shortages especially of grain due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Security will also be discussed, as France prepares to complete its pullout from Mali this year, with all countries in the region seeking to head off fears of Islamist insurgencies.
Macron, who won a new term in April, pledged to keep up his bid for a new relationship between France and Africa.
France has also followed with concern the emergence of other powers seeking a foothold in an area Paris still considers parts of its sphere of influence, notably Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but also increasingly China and Russia.
The tour “will show the commitment of the president in the process of renewing the relationship with the African continent”, said a French presidential official, who asked not to be named.
It will signal that the African continent is a “political priority” of his presidency.
In Cameroon, which has been riven by ethnic violence and an insurgency by anglophone separatists, Macron will meet President Paul Biya, 89, who has ruled the country for almost 40 years and is the longest-serving non-royal leader in the world.
Biya has run the country with an iron fist, refusing demands for federalism and cracking down on the rebellion by separatists.
Macron will move on Wednesday to Benin, a neighbour of Africa’s most populous nation Nigeria. The north of the country has faced more deadly attacks, with the jihadist threat now spreading from the Sahel to Gulf of Guinea nations.
He is likely to be lauded for championing the return in November of 26 historic treasures which were stolen in 1892 by French colonial forces from Abomey, capital of the former Dahomey kingdom located in the south of modern-day Benin.
Benin was long praised for its thriving multi-party democracy. But critics say its democracy has steadily eroded under President Patrice Talon over the last half decade. Opposition leader Reckya Madougou was sentenced in 2021 to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges.
On Thursday, Macron will finish his tour in Guinea-Bissau, which has been riven by political crisis at a time when its President Umaro Sissoco Embalo is preparing to take the helm of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).