Immigration, unemployment, Islam, security … all these themes will have marked the presidential campaign. Africa, on the other hand, will not have been at the heart of the debate. And yet, behind the scenes, some very French traditions will not have been broken.
By our correspondents to Dakar, Abidjan, Libreville, and Paris
“If I want Africa to be the first of France’s international priorities, it is neither by charity nor by greed. It is, quite simply, because our common interest encounters our mutual friendship. France must have an African policy and, within it, priorities and privileged alliances with its historical friends.” These remarks, which will surprise both in Paris and in African capitals, were held by Marine Le Pen, candidate of the National Front, then visiting Chad on March 21 and 22, pushing the question by a Guinean journalist as to: “And if she is elected? In other words, against all odds, if finally the president of the party, who castigates immigration, puts an end to “France-Africa” and renews the Franco-African relations on a healthier basis?
Marine Le Pen: attractive operation in Chad
It is at least the message Marine Le Pen tried to deliver during her visit, even if she did not forget the “African” past of her father, received by late Omar Bongo_ the first in the continent, in Chad, delivering at the same time the colors of her African program. Called “Africa: our priority for international cooperation”, it aims, in summary, according to Marine, “to put an end to the “double standards “which characterizes the current African policy of France and to a clear line: respect for national sovereignties.” In other words, less interference and more cooperation for better living conditions of the Africans at home and thus put an end to migration flows from the south to the north, France in particular. “Please, understand me, and understand the French: refusing mass immigration does not mean rejecting and hating the others, it’s just the opposite! Will she please clarify? On the contrary, it is a rigorous, shared and balanced management of migration flows between our two continents.”
In the meanwhile, another theme dear to Africans, especially at the moment, she tackled the CFA Franc. “I hear the complaints of African States which consider as a matter of principle that they must have their own currency and that the CFA franc is disadvantageous to their economic development. I totally agree with that vision”, an attractive operation mission during which Marine Le Pen sought to improve her image in Africa. Not totally won. Even before her arrival, the main opposition party denounced her visit in a statement:”The National Union for Development and Renewal (UNDR) is categorically opposed to the announced visit of Mrs. Marine Le Pen, the racist and xenophobic candidate of the extreme right for the presidential election in France”, recalling that “Mrs. Le Pen was the first French personality to congratulate Idriss Déby after his election coup. Chad should not show any sympathy for her candidacy under the pretext of visiting the Barkhane force and meeting the Chadian authorities.”
Visits of candidates in election campaign: a French tradition
In fact, what was she doing in Chad? Officially, she visited the French Barkhane Operation forces to which she provided support. But even though it had to do with Mali, her stay in Chad, a key country in the new French African arrangement, a meeting with Idriss Déby, one of the most, if not the most, influent African heads of State, to Francois Hollande, was significant. A sign of continuity, therefore, more than a change, as the visits of the candidates in election campaign are indeed a French tradition. Whether left-wing or right-wing, the candidates for the presidency systematically use the countries of a real or fantasized “France-Africa.” Gabon, Morocco, Senegal and others. According to the worst opinions, it’s a question of seeking financial support, “the famous suitcases of France-Africa”, while the most cautious raise a quest for “international” dimension. Africa remains the main zone of influence for France and remains crucial for the candidates who are seeking an international stature.
And the 2017 elections will not have deviated from the rule. Thus, if Marine Lepen’s visit was more noisy, a few months before, in December, just after she was elected to the right primary, François Fillon came to the continent, a first “international” trip punctuated by two stages in Bamako and Niamey, for a visit to the French forces engaged in the Sahel in Barkhane Operation. In the meantime, he met the Heads of State of Niger and Mali and reassured them as to the continuation of the French forces, if he is elected in the evening of May 7. Here, too, continuity. Not surprising for the one who had been, according to Sarkozy, a “zealous and effective collaborator”, more precisely his head of government from 2007 to 2012, a period during which he stuck to Sarkozy’s African roadmap. Even if, during his stays in the continent, he revealed one of the elements taken up during his campaign: rejecting the weight of colonization. For example, in Yaoundé in 2009, he described the war between independence and colonial forces as “pure invention” between 1955 and 1962. Once in the opposition, he started again in 2012, when Francois Hollande officially recognizes the responsibility of France in the massacre of October 17, 1961, he protests: “I have enough that every two weeks, France discovers a new responsibility and puts forward its permanent guilt”. A revisionist tendency confirmed as the Elysée candidate announced his intention, after his election, to invite the “Academicians” to put forward the “sharing culture” initiated by France during the colonial era.
Fillon “An African network”
Far from questioning “the African network” discreetly established by Francois Fillon since his visit to Matignon, for a time, following the advice of Mr. Africa from behind the scenes of Francafrica, Robert Bourgi. As he met the Gabonese opponent Jean Ping in July 2016, on the advice of Bourgi, and then by declaring, last September, on the disputed election of Ali Bongo: “The feeling we have by listening to observers on the ground is that President Bongo did not win this election.” Before opting for Bernard Debré and then returning to the “ni-ni” policy, neither indifference nor interference marked Sarkozy’s mandate.
Macron for “a great partnership with Africa”
Another visit of a candidate, that of Emmanuel Macron, to Algeria: the leader of the En Marche movement will not have chosen the simplest. The relations between Paris and Alger have collapsed since…, since the war of independence. Since then, according to the current powers, the relations vary between warming and cooling. And Macron decided to make his “African” visit there. So in Maghreb and Alger, and there, questioned by local television, he declared: “Colonization is part of French history. It is a crime, it is a crime against humanity, it is a real barbarism and part of this past we must face up by apologizing those to whom we committed these gestures”. These speeches sounded like problematic in France, especially since some time earlier in Paris he was more nuanced, indicating that there were “elements of civilization” in colonization.
A questionable about-face for the one who promised to “boost France-Africa relations. According to the watchword included in his program: “I want to implement a clear and determined diplomacy, in the Gaullist and Mitterrandian tradition, to make France an independent, humanist and European power,” including in Africa, too. “Our presence has globally declined in the Middle East, Maghreb and Africa, our brother continent.” Recalling that “Maghreb and Africa are our favorite partners”, he invited to “a great partnership with Africa,” but in regard to unspecified terms, apart from a focus on digital. Undoubtedly, because, the candidate sins in his “African network”. Even though he spent “a few months” in Nigeria, met the presidents of that country, as well as South Africa, the Ivory Coast and Senegal, he has a good knowledge of “African affairs and is still a novice in the matter. However, he contrasts with his competitors in that he focuses very clearly on the African Diasporas to France. Above all, Macron, a former banker, is a businessman, those who brought him to Algeria and before, as the minister of economy, to meet the African business community. For the one who went to Rothschild, he will not have escaped that, for a France in crisis, Africa, continuing the next growth, is salvation, therefore an economic prism.
The “most African” candidate, Benoît Hamon, who spent his childhood in Senegal, will not have made an “African visit”. The former SOS Racism activist, as he visited the continent in the past, including once to Mali as a National Assembly representative to “evaluate” the French military presence, very close to civil society associations, broke with the tradition. The rupture is perhaps here… On the other hand, nothing surprising for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Philippe Poutou or Nathalie Arthaud. The French extreme left, has always been far, and even founder of the traditions of “France-Africa”.
Author : ANA // Photos : 1. Fillon in Cameroon with Paul Biya © DR – 2. Before leaving, Hollande received several african leaders, here with the Ivorian one © DR – 3. Sarkozy, Rachida Dati and Lelouche with Mohammed VI © DR