Françafrique is back: Macron’s visit to Cameroon signals Colonisation 2.0

The French president sees himself as a break from old colonial ways. But his visit to the despot Paul Biya tells a different story

When the French president, Emmanuel Macron, landed in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on Monday for a two-day visit, France’s puppet leaders across Africa were assured of one thing: Françafrique is back. The question is what this means for the future of millions.

The answer – and Macron’s legacy – is more repression, more coups, more corruption, more violence, more suffering and, ultimately, more refugees and migrants making dangerous journeys to Europe in search of safety. It will also mean the further incursion of Russia and China, which highlight European colonial crimes even as they ramp up their own influence.

Born after the independence of France’s former colonies in Africa, Macron presents himself as the antithesis to Françafrique – the doctrine that dictates the terms of governance in former French colonies, by military force if necessary – or, as I see it, Colonisation 2.0.

Rather than abolish it, Macron reformed the colonial CFA franc – originally franc des colonies françaises d’Afrique – a currency still printed in France and used by 14 African countries. It will be renamed the Eco by 2027, sparking accusations of neo-colonisation, including by Italy’s then-deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio.

To regain credibility, Macron agreed to return some of the African artefacts looted under colonialism in French museums, and to declassify secret files on the assassination in 1987 of Burkina Faso’s anti-colonial leader Thomas Sankara. He commissioned a report that criticised the former French president François Mitterrand over actions around the Rwandan genocide, agreed to return the skulls of 24 Algerian resistance fighters taken to France in the 19th century as trophies, and – as the diplomatic lead for all things related to French-speaking Africa at the UN security council – Macron also pledged to stand up for democracy and protect human rights.

People in Yaoundé pass a poster of Biya and Macron
A poster in Yaoundé this week showing Paul Biya, Cameroon’s president for 40 years and accused of human rights abuses, with Macron. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty

Yet Macron’s first foreign trip outside Europe since re-election in April will see him meet Paul Biya, an 89-year-old despot who has been in power since Macron was five years old.

Over the weekend the Élysée Palace said Macron was meeting Biya not to find a solution to Cameroon’s anglophone crisis, which has seen separatist militias and government forces committing human rights abuses with impunity for the past five years, but to discuss the food crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, agriculture and security issues.

Notably absent from the Élysée’s reasons for the visit are Biya’s human rights abuses, including the persecution of LGBT people.

No justification for Macron’s visit can erase the fact that Paris is still the bedrock for Françafrique and its puppets – such as Alassane Ouattara, in Ivory Coast; Ali Bongo Ondimba, in Gabon; Faure Gnassingbé, in Togo; Gen Mahamat Déby, in Chad; Denis Sassou Nguesso, in Congo-Brazzaville; as well as Biya – that France shelters under its security and diplomatic umbrella despite their gross abuses of human rights, corruption and electoral fraud that have impoverished their countries.

Take Chad, where one in three – or 6.1 million people – need humanitarian assistance, according to the UN. When Idriss Déby, in power for 30 years, died from wounds sustained in combat last year, Macron said France had “lost a brave friend,” and endorsed his 37-year-old son, Mahamat, who dissolved the government and declared himself president, in violation of Chad’s constitution, before his father was even buried.

In Cameroon, the situation is dire. As Africa’s largest timber producer and the world’s fifth-largest cocoa producer, the country should be prosperous. Instead, Biya’s ruthlessly authoritarian regime has made it one of the world’s poorest, ranking 153 out of 189 countries in the 2020 Human Development Index. More than half of the 26 million population were “food insecure” long before soaring global commodity prices made it harder for families to put food on the table.

Add to this the codification of violence against women under Biya. According to Cameroon’s civil code, only men can be the heads of households, only men can choose the place of residence, and men and women do not have equal property rights.

In the penal code, adultery is always punishable if committed by a woman, but is only punishable when committed by a man if it is “habitual” or takes place in the matrimonial home. Abortion is criminalised, unless the mother’s life is in danger or if pregnancy is the result of rape – and rape is not a crime within marriage.

Macron, of course, knows all of this, but it seems what matters most is still Françafrique.

  • Vava Tampa is a freelance writer, focusing on Africa’s Great Lakes region, decolonisation and culture


Vava Tampa

The GuardianTramp

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