France faces anger in West Africa

It all started so positively. Where have things gone wrong? Why does France now appear so unpopular in Africa?
French President, Emmanuel Macron, has increased aid to the continent, begun the return of cultural artefacts stolen during the colonial wars and reached out beyond the usual inter-government ties to engage younger generations and civil society.
He has kept French troops in the Sahel to fight the jihadist militants that kill so many local civilians, police and soldiers and supported the regional bloc Economic Community for West Africa States (ECOWAS) as it tries to defend electoral politics against military takeovers.
This year, he flew to Rwanda to publicly acknowledge French failures during the 1994 genocide.
Yet his country is now the target of embittered African complaints and criticism on a scale that is probably unprecedented.
Last month, a convoy of French troops heading north to support the fight against Islamist militants was repeatedly blockaded by protesters as it crossed Burkina Faso and Niger.
In September, Mali’s Prime Minister, Choguel Maïga, was met with a wave of sympathetic comment when he used a speech at the United Nations (UN) to accuse France of “abandoning his country in mid-flight”, after Mr Macron began to scale back the deployment of troops in the country.
Among progressive West African commentators and urban youth, it is now commonplace to hear calls for the abolition of the CFA franc – the regional currency used by many francophone countries and which is pegged to the euro under a French government guarantee. Its critics say this enables France to control the economies of those countries which use it, while France says it guarantees economic stability.
What explains this paradox? How is it that a president more concerned for Africa than most recent predecessors, and more aware too of how the continent is changing, encounters a level of French unpopularity not felt for decades?
Certainly, Mr Macron’s self-confident – critics would say arrogant – personal style is a factor.
He has made his share of diplomatic blunders.
After 13 French troops died in a helicopter crash in Mali in November 2019, he demanded that West African leaders fly to France for an emergency summit, an outburst perceived as neo-colonial arrogance, particularly as Mali and Niger had suffered far heavier recent military losses. -BBC

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