By Olive Mukahirwa
French President Emmanuel Macron visited four Central African countries in early March in a bid to restore relations and forestall deepening Russian and Chinese influence on the continent. This was Macron’s 18th trip to Africa since he became president in 2017, and he held high level meetings in Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gabon. Russia and China have both increased their investment activities in many countries in Africa that were formerly colonized by France.
In Gabon, Macron attended Congo Basin Conference – an international gathering focused on preserving natural resources, particularly the Central African forests, which are considered by environmentalists “the second lung of the world” after the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
On his way to Angola, Macron presided over an economic meeting that brought together more than 50 French companies working in Angola, an oil-rich nation where France is heavily involved in the petroleum industry. The topic was strategies to develop partnerships in other sectors, such as agriculture. Macron thanked Angola’s President João Lourenço for the work he is doing to help restore calm and peace in eastern DR Congo; Lourenço is acting as a mediator in peace talks there.
In Congo-Brazzaville, Macron held discussions with President Denis Sassou-Nguesso on strengthening diplomatic relations between their two countries, and developing partnerships, mainly in agriculture. Macron praised Sassou-Nguesso for his role in solving the problems of Libya. Before leaving Congo-Brazzaville, Macron asked the French nationals living there to help improve relations between Africa and France. Sassou-Nguesso has been in power for close to four decades.
Macron concluded his visit in DR Congo, where he was met with protests and some Russian flags. “He is not welcome in DR Congo,” read a joint statement by 20 citizen groups. At issue currently is France’s failure to condemn or impose sanctions on Rwanda, which is widely believed – both in DR Congo and abroad – to be supporting the violent M23 group fighting in eastern Congo. A statement by 150 nongovernmental organizations demanded that Macron leave DR Congo, impose sanctions on Rwanda, and help DR Congo to organize its self-defense.
At a press conference, Macron reaffirmed France’s support of DR Congo but also emphasized that the solution to Congo’s problems is in the hands of the Congolese themselves. “Since 1994, you have never been able to restore your country’s military, security, and administrative sovereignty. It is a reality. We must not look for culpable people outside,” the French president said. The statement surprised and enraged many, who believe that DR Congo has long been a pawn in superpower geopolitics and a battleground for those seeking to plunder her natural resources.
When journalists asked Macron what he thought about the M23 group, he replied that “the French side is known and clear because it continues to condemn the activities of M23 and all those who support it should be held accountable for their role.” He asked the Congolese government to administer strict justice.
Among other outcomes of Macron’s visit to DR Congo, according to France 24, is the donation of 47 million euros from the European Union to help with the war in eastern Congo. Additionally, an air bridge is planned to Goma, the capital of Congo’s eastern North Kivu Province, which will help to provide humanitarian support to more than 600,000 people displaced from their homes by the fighting. Macron noted the need for an international awakening on the devastation in eastern DR Congo: “Faced with a history whose number of victims is equivalent to that of the world wars we have lived through … the solution lies in a collective awakening.”