French President Emmanuel Macron’s party is preventing a scathing parliamentary report into France’s Africa policy from being published.
In early November, the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee considered a policy review that heavily criticised what it said were French failures in Africa in recent years.
While its conclusions have been debated, Deputies, or MPs, from Macron’s Renaissance party have so far prevented the full report from being made public.
Among its criticisms are that French policymakers “do not understand” West African politics or society and that decisions regarding the region have been made by the army rather than the Government.
In addition, it points to what it says is an “embarrassing gap” between French rhetoric emphasising democracy and its policies backing authoritarian regimes.
Talking to Brussels Signal, Andrew Glencross, a politics professor at France’s Université Catholique de Lille, said: “Given foreign policy is squarely a presidential prerogative, any criticism is squarely a personal blow for Emmanuel Macron.”
For Macron, France’s retreat from Africa recently is seen by many as marking a loss of national and presidential prestige. A series of coups in the past two years resulted in French forces having to return home from Mali in 2022, Burkina Faso in 2023 and Niger starting in October this year.
For years, France had been keeping troops across the Sahel region, the vast, insecure scrublands south of the Sahara, where they fought a decade-long operation against Islamist militants. It was France’s largest foreign armed deployment since the Algerian War, some 60 years ago.
The Sahel operations reinforced a tradition of regarding the French-speaking states of Africa, so-called Françafrique, as France’s rightful sphere of influence, from president Charles de Gaulle onwards.
From the late 1950s, involvement in Africa offered de Gaulle grounds for depicting France as a global power. That also found favour with the US, as it helped prevent the continent from falling under Soviet influence. France undertook, on average, one military intervention in Africa a year from 1960 to the mid-1990s.
Today, the situation is different. “Africa policy in France is seen almost exclusively through the lens of migration; to a lesser degree energy and raw materials,” Glencross pointed out.
Regarding these issues, France’s approach is now “to lean a lot on the EU for policy solutions”, he added.
That has resulted in “a lot more realism about what France can achieve unilaterally”, with military means “now finally also being seen as limited in their efficacy”, Glencross added.
The policy review came about after French civil servants became alarmed at how rapidly France’s traditional allies in the region appeared to be turning against the country.
“In recent years, officials in Paris have grown increasingly concerned about rising anti-French sentiment in Africa and have mulled how to counter it,” said Mary Fitzgerald, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, US.
“The parliamentary report adds fresh urgency to the debate,” she added.
The leaders of the recent military coups across West Africa depict themselves as having successfully freed their nations from French “neocolonialism”.
Adding to governmental discomfort in Paris, Russia and the Kremlin-backed mercenary Wagner Group have moved into the vacuum left by the French withdrawal.
In 2017, Macron declared in Burkina Faso: “There is no longer a French Africa policy!” He had meant to claim France was moving beyond post-colonialism and Françafrique but the statement was seen as a confession of policy incoherence.
The effective failure of France’s Sahel intervention is an embarrassment for Macron at a time when Marine Le Pen, parliamentary party leader of the National Rally in the Assembly, consistently polls well ahead of the other contenders for the 2027 presidential election.
Still, deputies from Macron’s party are in a strong position in the legislature to bury awkward policy reviews such as the latest into French Africa policy.
His Renaissance party is in a healthy, although not a majority, position in the National Assembly, with 171 of the chamber’s 577 seats. Two coalition partners bring its total to 251, more than any other group of parties.