A visit by Macron to Africa under the shadow of Russia

DIPLOMACY – The priority of priorities for the Head of State? Three months after his re-election, and one month after the PFUE, Emmanuel Macron returned for four days to Africa, one of his diplomatic priorities.

He will travel, for the first time, to Cameroon, a heavyweight in Central Africa, to Benin, which faces security challenges in the Sahel, and to Guinea-Bissau. The president left the former French pre-square in Central Africa, including Gabon and the DRC which, at the same time, developed their political and economic relations with other powers such as China, Russia or Germany.

This four-day trip will allow the president to reaffirm his “commitment to the process of renewing France’s relations with the African continent”, explained the Elysée. The issues are different. In Cameroon, there is, among other things, the question of the rule of law as Paul Biya is criticized by the international community. As for Benin, Emmanuel Macron should especially discuss the restoration of works of art in France last year.

But for the president, this trip also means “renewing” his military partnerships on the continent to keep himself in the heightened strategic competition played out there between the powers, Moscow in the lead. Russian diplomacy chief Sergei Lavrov was also in Africa himself on Sunday.

The food crisis and military influence

Indeed, the war in Ukraine and Russia will undeniably revolve around this displacement. First in the context of the food crisis, when kyiv and Moscow signed parallel wheat export agreements this week. Which was immediately damaged by Russian strikes on the port of Odessa.

Thus, Emmanuel Macron should discuss, among other things, the Farm initiative launched in March with the European Union and the African Union to increase agricultural production. France intends to support projects in Cameroon, which has many advantages in this sector.

However, in Yaoundé where Boko Haram is threatening, and facing a Paul Biya whose relations have been strained in recent months, there is also talk of the growing influence of the military in Moscow.

“The Cameroonian President Paul Biya sent, in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine, his Minister of Defense to Moscow to sign a military defense agreement with Russia. I think that caused a big reaction in Paris . In addition, I believe that at the time the African manager of the Quai d’Orsay Christophe Bigot went to Yaoundé to find out what was happening”, recalled TV5 Monde, Antoine Glaser, specialist in relations between France and the French – speaking African. countries.

Wagner’s entire presence

Finally, it is also through the situation in the Sahel, a region bordering Benin and Guinea-Bissau, that Moscow can invite itself to discussions. At the heart of the issues: the presence of the Wagner group, and this, while Emmanuel Macron expressed his desire to “rethink in the autumn everything (of French military equipment) on the African continent”.

Pushed out of Mali by the junta in power since 2020, which is now working – although it denies it – with the sulphurous Russian paramilitary group Wagner, the French army will leave the country at the end of the summer, after nine years of anti-jihadist struggle. Its presence in the Sahel will be reduced by half, to less than 2,500 soldiers, and will mutate to “less posed and less exposed tools”, in the words of Emmanuel Macron, specifically to avoid lending on the side of a hostile feeling. -French is very flammable.

But France does not intend to abandon the fight against jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Daesh. The stakes are high: Paris seeks to avoid strategic humiliation in the face of its rivals.

“The Russians have a real priority in the operation to oppose the French in the field of information in Africa. They are exerting strong pressure to try to expel us (through) social networks, through Wagner”, sums up the a French general in the AFP.

Wagner’s mercenaries have already been established in the Central African Republic and Mali, with a clear service offer: anti-coup security and legal assistance to maintain the regime in power, in exchange for the exploitation of mineral resources. , lined up the origins of the AFP.

It does not matter as Guinean President Umaro Sissoco Embalo prepares to take the helm of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on the front line against the Malian junta.

Russian presence in social networks

Finally, the “Prigojine galaxy”, named after the Russian founder of Wagner, is known to be close to the Kremlin, also active in social networks. The messages most shared in anti-French Facebook groups in Africa, for example, are mostly related to the RFI. At the end of April in Mali, a French drone surprised mercenaries who made a fake mass grave near a French base, to accuse Paris of war crimes through fake Twitter accounts .

The pro-Russian camp is still pushing to interfere in French political life, according to two sources familiar with the matter. “The Russian camp harassed us during the election campaigns (presidential and legislative), through fake pro or anti-government accounts in Mali, Senegal, Benin and CAR. But it didn’t take”, description of a high official A controlled situation.

An influence that is no longer limited to social networks. Many observers noted that the pro-Kremlin site, Sputnik France, found a second life by becoming Sputnik Africa. The second wind must also be determined to be found in Paris during this visit.

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