In his first annual address to France's 170 ambassadors on Tuesday, Macron reiterated his plans to place the African continent at the heart of his foreign policy, stating that “the future of the world will largely be played out in Africa".
France maintains close and often complex ties with its former African colonies and the wider region, and French presidents traditionally reaffirm their commitment to the continent early on in their mandates.
Macron has repeatedly listed peace talks in Libya and addressing the migrant crisis in North Africa among his main foreign policy objectives, while also striving to deliver a positive message on the continent’s development.
“Africa is not only the continent of crises and migrations; it is a continent of the future,” he told the ambassadors in Paris. "Which is why we cannot leave Africa alone to face its demographic, climatic and political challenges.”
The French president said he would soon be travelling to Burkina Faso to “carry this message”. Before heading there, he will be convening his brand new Presidential Council for Africa, tasked with advising him on African matters and preparing his trips to the continent.
‘Not a fan club’
A campaign promise, the council will initially have 11 members – all of them “dedicated representatives of civil society”, appointed on a voluntary basis.
They include Jean-Marc Adjovi-Boco, a former captain of Benin’s national football team, Kenyan researcher Yvonne Mburu, French lawyer Yves-Justice Djimi, and former Beninese ambassador Jules-Armand Aniambossou, who graduated from France’s elite school of government, the ENA, the same year as Macron.
Sources at the Elysée Palace said the council would be “neither a think-tank nor an African fan club of the president”, but rather an advisory body designed to keep the president abreast of developments on the continent.
According to Jeune Afrique, a pan-African news magazine based in Paris: “The council will notably meet with Macron ahead of each trip to Africa and help draft key speeches relating to the continent.”
In setting up the advisory body, Macron will be hoping to secure a better grasp of African issues and avoid the communication blunders that have plagued past French presidents in their relations with the continent.
It was notably the case with Nicolas Sarkozy, whose troubled rapport with African countries never fully recovered from a controversial speech he gave in Dakar, at the start of his presidency, in which he stated that “the African has not fully entered history”.
Macron, France’s youngest leader since Napoleon, has already faced accusations of paternalism and contempt after declaring in July that “civilisational” problems were holding Africa back, and lamenting the fact that African women have “seven or eight children”.
He will be hoping for a better reception when he delivers a keynote speech in November detailing his African policy, in what is likely to be the new council’s first major assignment.