PARIS (Reuters): French President Emmanuel Macron will fly to Africa this week in a bid to counter Russian efforts to dislodge France from the continent, after Paris suffered a series of military and political setbacks in its former sphere of influence.
Macron will visit three African nations around the Congo basin as well as Angola, with the focus of the trip being ostensibly away from France’s troubled former colonies in the Sahel, where anti-French sentiment is on the rise.
Ahead of the trip on Monday evening, Macron is expected to spell out his new African policy in a speech and press conference at the Elysee palace.
The tour comes just over a week after Burkina Faso booted out French troops and ended a military accord that allowed France to fight insurgents in the West African nation, becoming the latest African country to reject Paris’ help.
France withdrew its forces from Mali last year after the junta there started working with Russian military contractors, ending a decade of operations against Islamist insurgents.
Russia’s Wagner Group has also deployed in the Central African Republic, prompting fears of a domino effect in Paris at a time Western countries are trying to lobby the global south against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Macron has accused Russia of feeding anti-French propaganda in Africa to serve “predatory” ambitions.
But French presidential advisers denied in a briefing on Friday that Macron was in a charm offensive to win back lost influence.
“We should be more nuanced on the idea of a loss of influence, which covers many things. In these countries, there is intense demand for links with France,” one adviser said.
During the trip, Macron will focus on the environment, with a participation to a summit on forests in Gabon, and will also meet African artists.
But he is also expected to give more clarity on France’s new military strategy on the continent in the speech on Monday.