Opinion: Macron comments on birth control in Africa bad omen for a progressive French presidency

‘It seems that despite his youth and vitality, the new president is sticking to a very old line when it comes to France’s position on Africa,’ writes Eliza Anyangwe in The Guardian.
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French President Emmanuel Macron © Tech Sgt. Ryan Crane

Emmanuel Macron, France’s newly elected president, explained at a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg this week that the reason there was no Marshall plan for Africa was because the continent had “civilizational” problems.

One part of the problem, he added, was the countries that “still have seven to eight children per woman.”

Well, writes Anyangwe ‘the condemnation online was swift and relentless.’

“It is RICH for a French president to criticise Africa this way,” US political scientist Laura Seay tweeted. Part of France’s colonial “’mission’ was the institutionalisation of Catholicism as the official religion of French colonial territories in Africa.”

“We see all kinds of effects of the ‘mission civilatrice’ in Francophone Africa today, like the church’s teaching against contraceptive use, which most African adherents take very seriously,” she added.

“Do women in Francophone Africa want to give birth to far more children than they can reasonably feed, clothe, and educate? I doubt most do.”

Are these the first signs of a ‘chink in the Golden Boy’s armour?’ asks Anyangwe, or were the ‘signs there all along?’

During his presidential campaign, Macron described France’s colonial period in Algeria as “a crime against humanity.” But when confronted about it back at home, ‘Macron apologised for having hurt voters’ feelings.’

‘What about the feelings of the millions of Africans you casually slur, Monsieur Macron?’

The president’s comments ‘make the blood boil,’ but not because they are anything new; in 2007 in Nicolas Sarkozy said “the Africans” had “never really launched themselves into the future. The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words.”

No, the problem is that Macron ‘makes no mention of the root causes’ of the challenges facing Africa.

‘Gone is the lucid, welcome admission that France’s role in its former colonial was anything but laudable.’

He suddenly has nothing to say about the fact that the relationship between France and its former colonies ‘remains largely neo-colonial: Francophone Africa still trades heavily with France, and French companies – particularly in the extractive industries – have a strong presence on the continent.’

This relationship is ‘perhaps best captured’ by the CFA [francophone Africa] franc currency, ‘which offers little benefit to the Francophone nations.’

“CFA zone countries have to deposit 50% of their currency reserves into a so-called operations account managed by the French treasury” says Cameroonian journalist Julie Owono.

And France repeatedly gets involved in military conflicts in its former colonies, but ‘is often silent on human and civil rights abuses.’ Cameroonian ‘strongman’ Paul Biya brutally represses opponents, ‘and turns off the internet in order to silence his people,’ but the French government has looked the other way.

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Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his wife Chantal meet the Obamas. Aug. 5, 2014. © Amanda Lucidon

The real test of Macron’s presidency is Africa, writes Anyangwe. ‘At the moment he’s doing a fine job of proving he is cut from the same cloth as every leader who has come before him: adopting a paternalistic tone and happy to moralise, while profiting from the carnage France helped create – to which, at best, he turns a blind eye.’

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