Monday, June 24, 2024
HomeGeopolitical CompassEurope, Russia, OceaniaWill France’s Africa Policy Hold Up?

Will France’s Africa Policy Hold Up?

Author: Corentin Cohen

Affiliation: University of Oxford, Department of Politics and International Relations

Organization/Publisher: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 

Date/Place: June 2022/ Washington-DC, USA

Type of Literature: Research Paper

Number of Pages: 34 



Keywords: France, Africa, Foreign Policy, Partnership, Diplomacy, Post-colonialism.




Corentin Cohen investigates the French role and influence in Africa and the prospects for its future partnership with the continent, taking into account France’s history as a colonial power in many African countries. Cohen argues that France, under President Emmanuel Macron, seeks to strengthen its diplomatic partnership with African countries by addressing the legacy of French colonialism and through the development of public diplomacy and foreign aid to rebuild partnerships on equal footing. However, this strategy has faced challenges that have hindered the achievement of Macron’s ambitious plans and expectations, including political, economic, and security obstacles. To support his argument, Cohen discusses the troubled history of France in Africa, the Macron administration’s strategy for developing a partnership with African countries, and the limitations of this strategy in achieving its goals. Finally, he provides recommendations for the French president and his team to maintain the objectives of their strategy and the potential for developing a new partnership between Europe and Africa. 


The legacy of French colonialism in Africa is controversial and complicated, and Macron’s rhetoric about it has differed from that of previous French presidents. French colonialism in Africa significantly transformed African states, societies, institutions, economies, and militaries, establishing a pattern of relationships between French and African elites based on shared interests that cultivated domination and stimulated local reactions to this power dynamic. Even after African countries gained formal independence, France maintained its sphere of influence, known as “Françafrique,” in the region through formal and informal economic, political, and personal networks between elites from both sides who shared common views on world politics and interests in Africa. While this relationship is said to have been terminated, France’s inconsistency in its relationships with its African allies has cast doubt on such claims and provoked local resentment of France’s strategy in the region. It is clear that France enjoys a privileged position as a partner to many African presidents due to ongoing political, military, intelligence, and security cooperation. However, there are increasing factors that threaten the sustainability of these patterns of relations between French and African leaders, including the growing negative perception of France as a colonial power with a troubled history of colonialism and the increasing diplomatic competition from various international and regional actors such as China, Russia, Israel, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. This has challenged France’s position in Africa and its longstanding domination of the region, leading Macron to reshape French diplomacy and foreign policy towards African countries. However, such policy has implications, limitations, and contradictions produced by inherited French policy tools and practices that create several obstacles to its success.


To maintain France’s position and partnership with Africa, Macron has primarily adopted a rhetorical approach to address the negative perception of France’s partnership with Africa and made some policy shifts to address past grievances of colonial France and its postcolonial policies. Macron has admitted that “colonialization was a crime against humanity” and acknowledged past mistakes in French policy in Africa. He has approached this in a cultural framework, acknowledging different dark incidents, making classified archives related to bitter events and incidents transparent, and addressing the issue of African cultural artifacts in French museums. These measures and policies have created a new political space that allows historians and researchers to examine this era with its mistakes and failures. Cohen emphasizes that such transparency and accountability are necessary for the reconciliation of French and African societies and histories, considering the bitter moments and parts of this history. Additionally, this diplomatic restructuring has taken on an economic dimension, addressing the issue of the African Financial Community (CFA) franc, which dates back to the colonial era and highlights French domination of African economies, a subject of much criticism. Macron’s initiated reforms in 2019 addressed French administration of the CFA, and the release of African assets from the Bank of France to the Central Bank of West African States in May 2021 was seen as another step towards addressing the imbalance of French-African economic relations. However, these bureaucratic measures and procedures have been accompanied by mixed political messaging that has resulted in a stalemate, preventing the development of different policies. This contradiction has perpetuated the perception of the French government’s limited interest in sustaining partnerships and connections between French and African peoples, undermining Macron’s rhetorical appeals to sustain French-African relations. 


Macron’s approach to foreign policy towards Africa focuses on transactional engagement rather than the human rights and defense of democratic values rhetoric adopted by previous French leaders. This approach prioritizes macroeconomic diplomacy and building ties with political and business societies to achieve common interests. French economic diplomacy towards Africa includes bilateral aid flows to the continent, with 39% of French aid directed to Africa and 18 of the top 19 aid recipients being African countries. Additionally, French public diplomacy has expanded under Macron’s approach, involving building new partnerships with African non-state actors and education exchanges. However, this public diplomacy approach has been limited by either transactionalism or a focus on shaping African elites and civil servants. Other countries, including the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, China, and Turkey, have also increasingly competed with France in the field of education in Africa, with China becoming the top destination for African students abroad. On the other hand, France has focused on security and military partnerships with African countries, with the stated goal of fighting terrorism in Africa, while ignoring the social and political dynamics in the region. This military-driven approach has misjudged political changes and transformations in Sahel countries, leading to a concentration of power in the hands of the military and less influence from local intermediaries, which in turn has increased the demand for religious moral regulation and the emergence of new moral authorities. 


Cohen argues that France’s attempts to open new channels and relations with African countries will fail unless it recognizes and learns from past mistakes and takes advantage of the political space provided to improve its relations with Africa. He suggests that Macron should adopt two key factors in his approach: accountability and building new partnerships. First, maintaining accountability for French policy towards Africa is essential to sustaining its relationships with the continent. The French foreign policy decision-making process is currently restricted to top political figures, particularly the president and his team, and could benefit from greater democratic oversight and openness to criticism and sharing of information. Second, France should focus on building new partnerships with non-state actors and civil society, emphasizing its public diplomacy in Africa to support the aspirations of African people and anticipate upcoming social and political transitions, rather than relying on traditional authoritarian partners.


Finally, Cohen suggests that a partnership between Europe and Africa could be achieved through five priorities that could serve as useful points of focus. First, France and other European countries could help reshape capitalism in Africa by maintaining its fiscal capabilities and minimizing the influence of offshore banking on the economies of the continent. Second, prioritizing people-to-people ties and education exchanges through providing equal access to African students to educational institutions on equal financial terms and expanding Erasmus partnership efforts. Third, European countries should consider energy partnerships and cooperation with Africa based on justice, rather than treating Africa as a substandard market for European exports that are not allowed in European markets. Fourth, the EU should address the dual dilemma of security and increasing partnerships with authoritarian regimes in the continent through maintaining transparency and accountability in its policies. Fifth, European and African countries should establish norms that take into account their limited technological capabilities compared to the growing geopolitical competition between the US and China over technology.


France needs to consider these points and revise its policies in order to maintain its position in Africa and partnership with African countries. If it ignores these requirements, it will not be able to sustain its partnership with Africa in the long term, as it will lose public support both within and outside the country, and other international and regional actors will be more likely to fill the vacuum left by France and maximize their own interests. Additionally, France’s soft power and public diplomacy will continue to be negatively affected by the perception of its colonial history in the minds of Africans, which could be exploited by other players such as China, Iran, and Turkey.

By: Yomna Süleyman, CIGA Research Assistant



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -
Google search engine

Most Popular