SHARE
COPY LINK

AFRICA

French soldiers hit by grenade attack shortly before Macron visit to Burkina Faso

Three civilians were wounded in Burkina Faso on Monday after a grenade was thrown at French troops shortly before President Emmanuel Macron touched down for the start of his first Africa tour.

French soldiers hit by grenade attack shortly before Macron visit to Burkina Faso
File Photo: AFP

The French president is embarking on a three-day trip of western Africa aimed at boosting France's regional influence, stemming the continent's migrant exodus and bolstering the fight against violent Islamist militancy in the Sahel.

The visit was marred by an attempted attack on French troops in the capital Ouagadougou just hours before Macron's arrival.

“Two hooded individuals on a motorcycle threw a grenade towards a French army vehicle” as it made its way to a barracks housing French special forces, a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Three residents were wounded, one seriously, in the attack which took place at 8:00 pm (2000 GMT), the source added.

“The attackers' target was the French army vehicle, which was not hit,” the source said.

An AFP reporter at the scene of the attack witnessed a small hole in the tarmac where the grenade detonated and a damaged civilian vehicle.

Macron flew into Ouagadougou three hours later for a trip that will take in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast — two former French colonies that deposed strongmen leaders in recent years — as well as to Ghana.

His advisors say his primary message will be to stress a partnership of equals with Africa, based on education and entrepreneurship.

But regional security concerns will also dominate.

European leaders are desperate to find ways to stem the flow of African migrants across the Mediterranean without leaving them to the mercy of
traffickers in transit countries like Libya, where they face torture, rape, and — as a CNN report showed recently — being sold into slavery.

And Macron will also be seeking international backing for a new, five-nation African counter-terrorism force, which France hopes to see
eventually take over the fight against jihadist groups in the Sahel region.

Ouagadougou has suffered two recent terror attacks carried out by Islamist militants — a shooting spree in January 2016 that left 20 dead and a similar
assault by gunmen in August that killed 19.

AFRICA

Four key questions (and answers) about the issues Macron faces in Africa

President Emmanuel Macron has promised a new start in France's relations with its former colonies in Africa, promising that Paris would no longer "lecture" or seek to intervene. Here are the issues explained.

Four key questions (and answers) about the issues Macron faces in Africa
Macron speaks with Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabor. Photo: AFP
What are France's Africa ties?
 
France was a colonial power which held sway over a vast swathe of territory in West Africa that began during the scramble for territory by European powers from the mid-19th century.
   
The area stretched from the modern-day nations of Mauritania and Mali in the north to Ivory Coast and Benin on the Gulf of Guinea and the landlocked Central African Republic.
   
By 1960, the former colonial territories had emerged as independent countries but French influence remained deeply entrenched and its interventionist approach became known pejoratively as its “Francafrique policy”.
   
Successive French leaders built close ties to the mostly authoritarian strongmen who took over in the post-independence era, while French companies took leading roles in strategic sectors, particularly oil and mining.
 
Photo: AFP
 
Macron wants to end this?
 
Speaking to students in Burkina Faso's capital, he avoided mention of “Francafrique” but assured them: “I haven't come here to tell you what is France's African policy because there no longer is one.”
   
His advisors have stressed that he is promoting the idea of a “partnership of equals” between France and Africa and in his speech, he promised France would “stop lecturing” others.
 
As such, it is nothing new, said Laurent Bigot, a former diplomat specialising in West Africa, who underlined how France's grip on the region has slipped progressively since the 1960s.
   
“He's the third president who has announced the end of Francafrique,” he told AFP. “He's done the same thing as his two predecessors with a major African trip at the start of his mandate.”
 
Photo: AFP
   
But for Antoine Glaser, another Africa expert and former editor of a newsletter about the continent, Macron “needs to take into account France's loss of influence in Africa”, particularly in the face of competition from China.
   
“Because other than the Sahara region, France doesn't count for much,” he explained.
 
Can Macron reset relations?
 
Echoing his predecessors, Macron appealed to the youth of Burkina Faso to move on from the crimes of colonialism, insisting it was “a past which has to pass.”
   
During a lively question-and-answer session with the students that broke with a tradition of staid, scripted exchanges with heads of state, a relaxed Macron stressed the generational change he represents as France's youngest leader since Napoleon.
 
“I am from a generation that hails Nelson Mandela's victory over apartheid as one of its fondest political memories. That's the history of our generation,” he told the gathering.
   
Former diplomat Bigot says Macron channelled former US president Barack Obama's approach of “appealing to African civil society” and addressing young people directly.
   
“That's the real change,” he said.
   
“He is saying to young people in Africa: 'I'm young, I'm like you, born after colonisation, I'm not going to get stuck with the old African heads of state, the autocrats who were often co-opted by France'.”
   
But the 39-year-old Frenchman faces scepticism too: comments in July when he spoke of African women having “seven or eight children” and called population growth on the continent a “civilisational” problem offended many people.
 
Macron (front row, C) speaks with King Mohammed VI of Morocco. Photo: AFP   
 
On Tuesday, he expressed regret over the “civilisational” remark while questioning whether African women were really free to choose how many children they had.
   
While those remarks hit the spot, he nearly sparked a diplomatic incident with his Burkinabe counterpart Roch Marc Christian Kabore by telling students to direct their complaints about electricity supplies to their own president.
   
When Kabore suddenly left the room, Macron continued joking that he had gone to fix the air conditioning.
 
What are France's Africa priorities?
 
France maintains a major military presence in the region and is the lead partner in a multi-national force fighting jihadists on the fringes of the Sahara.
   
In 2013, then president Francois Hollande sent troops to Mali to defend the country against Islamist extremists, two years after France spearheaded a NATO-led bombing campaign against late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
   
Since 2015, controlling migration from Africa has also emerged as a key policy focus which features heavily at a summit of European Union and African Union leaders on Wednesday and Thursday.
   
Macron faced criticism from some students on Tuesday for EU efforts to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya, where they face detention in squalid camps, torture, rape and even being sold into slavery.
   
France also cites economic development and giving girls access to education among its priorities in Africa.
 
By AFP's Michel Moutot and Adam Plowright