On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron landed in Gabon, marking the first stop in his Africa tour that will see him visit Angola, Congo Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Macron’s trip, his first to all four nations as head of state, follows the commissioning 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.
Growing insecurity there has sparked 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.
About a year ago, Macron announced the withdrawal of French troops from Mali after its junta started working with Russian mercenaries, while Burkina Faso ended a military deal with France.
In a speech on Monday, Macron proposed a new 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.
With only two of Macron’s stops, Gabon and Congo Republic being 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.”
At the same time 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 set to fly to Angola on Thursday evening, Congo Republic on Friday and DRC on Saturday.