French President Emmanuel Macron can often be blunt when it comes to Africa to the point of, what some critics call, arrogance. Yet, he never resorts to the complacent country club atmosphere that many of his predecessors did and which can be summed up by the term Françafrique.

Macron pushes for France and other European countries to heavily invest in Africa and has also tried to break with France’s colonial past. Yet, at the same time, he has made it clear that France will not tolerate political instability when French troops are putting their lives on the line fighting Islamic insurgencies on the continent. 

Macron’s blunt style is easily visible in Mali. The former French colony recently suffered its fifth coup since earning its independence in 1960 and the second since last summer. In the latest coup, Vice President and Army Colonel Assimi Goita arrested and forced the resignation of President Bah N’daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and Minister of Defense Souleymane Doucouré.

European Leaders Threaten to Pull Out of Mali

French Special Operation Forces in Africa
French SOF troops, part of SOF Task Force Takuba, are fighting Islamic insurgents in Mali.

Macron denounced the coup as “unacceptable” and warned other leaders in West Africa that France would not and could not support a country without “democratic legitimacy or transition.”

In response to the coup, West African leaders suspended Mali from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The African Union also suspended Mali and threatened economic sanctions if a civilian-led government is not restored.

ECOWAS called for the ruling military junta to name a new civilian prime minister to be nominated immediately, a new inclusive government to be formed, and the promised 18-month transition of power that will result in new elections in February 2022 to be carried out. It added that a monitoring mechanism will be put in place to assure the above. 

“Neither France nor its partners are committed to getting involved [in Mali] if the ECOWAS demands are not respected,” Macron said.

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Macron has acknowledged that a solution to Mali’s troubles needs to be political, economic, and military.

“Our priority in Mali is the fight against terrorism and the presence of our forces on the ground is not enough in this fight. It also requires the strengthening of stable and legitimate institutions,” Macron specified.

Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also has committed to Mali militarily, agreed that there should be no contact between Mali, including its current ruling junta, and Islamist terrorist forces. 

Merkel said, “If there is a situation […] in which we see red lines are crossed, then we will coordinate our actions closely.” This would include pulling their troops out of the country. 

Macron’s Difficult Balancing Act in Africa

Macron was the only Western leader to attend the funeral of longtime Chadian leader Idriss Deby. His attendance garnered criticism as endorsing the ruling military council that is run by Deby’s son. While Chad is a partner in the counter-insurgency efforts in the Sahel, Macron has said that he supported a democratic transition and not “a succession plan.”

Wagner Central African Republic
Mercenaries from the Wagner Group are part of the Central African Republic (CAR) presidential security detail.

But perhaps Macron is at his most blunt when discussing the Central African Republic (CAR). When the CAR was in the throes of a possible genocidal conflict it was the French and other African nations who put troops on the ground. Their intervention aided CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s rise to power.

But Touadéra drifted towards President Vladimir Putin, giving Russia exclusive deals in mining for gold, diamonds, and uranium. The CAR then signed a deal with the Russian mercenary company Wagner, which provides the president with security details and military training advisers. The anti-French rhetoric emanating from the CAR and from those closest to Touadéra angers Macron the most. Macron called the CAR president a “hostage” of Wagner and suspended budgetary support for the CAR government. 

Macron does not have an easy road ahead. He has to support a stable Africa while not stirring up the anti-French sentiments shared by many young Africans.

At the same time, although Macron has said that France will not cave in to Islamic terrorism, he is trying to persuade French popular opinion that French troops are not dying in vain in the Sahel.