Macron’s African charm offensive

Macron’s African charm offensive

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to make French the most spoken language in the world.

He told students in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou that French could become “the first language of Africa” and “perhaps of the world” and should not be viewed as a “relic of a colonial power”.

During the first leg of his West African tour, the 39-year-old said: “It is not just a heritage to be protected. It has a future and this future is playing out. The radiance, the attractiveness of French, does not just belong to France.”

The language is spoken by 274 million people globally, making it the globe’s fifth most-common tongue.

During a meeting with Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Kabore, Macron quipped with students during a question and answer session that Kabore had left the room to fix the air-conditioning.

A student asked Macron what he would do about Burkina Faso’s power cuts, he replied: “You speak to me like I’m a colonial power, but I don’t want to look after electricity in Burkina Faso. That’s the job of your president.”

When Kabore later left the hall, Macron joked: “You see, he’s gone. He’s left to fix the air-conditioning.” A smiling Kabore soon returned.

The jibe sparked a social-media debate, between those regarding it as light-hearted and others who said it had paternalistic overtones.

Macron is hoping to bolster relations with former colonies and deepen co-operation on migration, terrorism and human rights.

He has said he will host talks in Paris on December 13 on “speeding up deployment” of a five-nation, anti-terrorism force in the Sahel.

The sprawling Sahel region, stretching from Senegal to Sudan, has become increasingly lawless since anarchy engulfed Libya in 2011, Islamists overran northern Mali in 2012 and Boko Haram invaded northern Nigeria.

Macron “will invite fellow leaders and key partners in the joint force, from the EU, UN, AU [African Union]” a French source said, adding that the “G5 Sahel” deployment “is not moving ahead fast enough”.

Macron has now arrived in the former British colony of Ghana.

In Ouagadougou he said slavery and human trafficking in Libya were a “crime against humanity”.

Macron said he would not interfere in African politics, ending “Francafrique”, which refers France’s neo-colonial attitudes towards former territories.

“I haven’t come here to tell you what is France’s African policy because there no longer is one, there is only a continent that we need to look straight in the face,” Macron told students. “The crimes of European colonisation are unquestionable… It’s a past that needs to pass.”

French troops deployed in southern Mali last year. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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