Macron’s whistlestop tour of African nations will see him meet leaders in former French colonies Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), as well as former British colony Ghana. The visit has been pitched as a political bridge-building exercise.
Touching on France’s colonial past, Macron told delegates at the University of Ouagadougou on Tuesday that the “crimes of European colonization are indisputable.” On reports of slave auctions in Libya, Macron proposed a joint Euro-African initiative to eradicate people smuggling. However, a highly animated Macron left his audience of students in little doubt that the problem should be tackled by local authorities.
“In Libya, we’re engaged in diplomatic relations to find a political solution,” he said, raising his voice. Macron then implied that Africans should look closer to home for a solution, claiming that local people are the chief traffickers.
“Who are the traffickers? Ask yourselves – being the African youth – that question. You are unbelievable. Who are the traffickers? They are Africans, my friends. They are Africans. Ask yourselves the question.
“It’s not the French who are the traffickers, it’s the Africans. So everyone should understand the responsibility, and we’ve started to do that, to dismantle them. But stop the argument saying, ‘It’s someone else.’
“Show me a French, Belgian, German person, who carried out trafficking between Nigeria and Libya. This person doesn’t exist,”Macron added. “So, these days in Africa, there are Africans who make other Africans slaves, this is the reality. And there are Europeans who benefit from this misery in Europe, it’s unacceptable. In both cases, these are crimes. We are fighting both cases.”
The tense exchange is unlikely to have endeared the French president to his critics, since he appeared to stray from his original line that he is “from a generation where we do not come to tell Africa what to do.”
Macon has claimed to be a president raised on the speeches of Nelson Mandela and, during his election campaign, described colonialism as a crime against humanity. This stance was somewhat undermined, however, when Macron responded to a question Tuesday about the number of African students in France versus the number of French soldiers stationed in Africa.
The president spoke of French soldiers dying while on duty in Africa, and telling the student, whose question he was responding to, that they owe French soldiers their applause.
Macron’s trip was marred even before his arrival in the country. Two hooded assailants on a motorcycle lobbed a hand grenade at a bus carrying French military in Burkina Faso on Monday. Three civilians were injured in the incident. Separately, the French delegation convoy was pelted with stones, damaging one vehicle, and protests were set up near the university Macron was due to address on Tuesday.
The topic of migrant trafficking in North Africa is set to be a major point of discussion at an African-EU summit on Wednesday.
While the North African country has historically been a gateway for people travelling to Europe, the UNHCR noted the instability caused by the outbreak of the Libyan civil war in 2011 as an aggravating factor.
Macron, however, kept rather silent on the issue, despite France having spearheaded the western bombardment of the country, which saw Muammar Gaddafi ousted and the state sliding into civil war.