On Sunday, May 7th France did what majority of the European Union and progressive world had hoped for – they elected 39-year old former Economy Minister, En Marche! candidate, Emmanuel Macron. The run-off election which once again pitted globalism against nationalism; a match-up which had recently seen the UK vote to leave the European Union and the US elect Donald Trump, ended up offering none of the drama it was hyped to, as Macron staved off a last-minute Russian hack to obliterate his controversial populist opponent, Marine LePen of the Front National party, by about 30 percentage points to become the President Elect of France. The result was greeted in Nigeria and across the African continent – much of which still deals heavily with the old colonists, with relief and excitement. While Emmanuel Macrons brief political record offers us little clues on how his administration will deal with the historically testy France, Africa relations, his campaign manifesto, public speeches and comments provide an insight into how he might govern. From Immigration and security, to trade and infrastructure, here’s what the Macron presidency will mean for Africans and Africa.
On Immigration – In what was perhaps the most polarizing issue of the campaign; Marine Le Pen propagated an anti immigration agenda, pledging to halt immigration into France, saying, “We have millions of unemployed and cannot afford any more immigration. Where are they supposed to live? It is not viable.” A view that was similar to President Trumps during the US elections and one propagated by pro-Brexit MP, Nigel Farage, in the UK. Emmanuel Macron offered a starkly contrasting message, committing to maintain the Europe’s pledge to offer asylum to those who seek its protection and to help address the underlying causes of migration — underdevelopment, famines, climatic disorders.
However, he stopped short of an open French border, saying, “The European Union cannot accept on its soil all those who are in search of a better life. In this context, France must take its fair share in the reception of refugees.” While Macrons stance on immigration seems less drastic and more convivial, it offers little change from the status quo, which has sat idly as African migrants are increasingly subject to racial profiling.
On Security – As a founding member of the NATO alliance, France plays a key role in security on the African continent as it maintains military bases in its old colonies. It led the military intervention that toppled Colonel Gadhafi in Libya, and has led or supported counterterrorism operations in Mali, Chad, Cote d’ivoire, Northeast Nigeria and the Central African Republic among others. While Le Pen committed to maintaining an active foreign policy with African countries, she was against interference in local conflicts. Macron on the other hand promised to increase Frances contribution to NATO to fulfill its 2% GDP obligation by 2025. He also vowed to review France’s military bases on the continent and expressed his desire to help build defence capabilities of African nations, so they can be self-reliant.
On Trade – Throughout the campaign, Macron was very supportive of the European Unions trade policies, so it is assumed he will preserve The Economic Partnership Agreement; which is the bedrock of trade between the EU and Africa, fostering partnership between the two regions on Economic and trade cooperation among other things. This stance will most likely mean the continuation of policies, which have starved the continent into submission through tariff hikes, flooding the market with EU produce and restrictions on genetically modified crops.
On Aid and Development – In the ranking compiled by Action Contre La Faim, a development organization that ranked the candidates’ policies on global development, Macron ranked “Tres Bien”. By contrast, Le Pen was unranked because they worried that some of her proposed policies would likely violate international law. According to his spokesperson Jean-Michel Severino, Macrons priorities are on education, health, women’s rights, employment and the development of the private sector in developing countries in sub Saharan Africa understandably with a preference for the francophone countries.
During the campaign, Macron has called for aid to be spent in the poorest countries and on the poorest and most vulnerable people in accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals of leaving no child behind. Thanks to Macron’s victory, we likely won’t see Le Pen’s proposed policy that tied aid to the repatriation of migrants or and a preference for countries that patronized French exports. Macron has committed to increase Frances foreign aid budget to 0.7% of its gross national income by 2030.
While the election of Emmanuel Macron is a much needed reprieve from the demoralizing losses of the Brexit referendum and Donald Trumps victory in the US elections, it offers little hope for positive change as Macrons victory was fueled more by fear of the fringe policies of Marine Le Pen, than any discernible enthusiasm for him. His policies as outlined above suggest a continuation of the status quo. The silver lining is that as a 39-year old, who already acknowledged France’s crimes against humanity in the 1962 Algerian Independence War, he doesn’t appear to carry the baggage of imperialism and will hopefully be honest about France’s destabilizing role on the continent and most importantly, work to stem it.
In a similar piece I wrote in the aftermath of the US elections and its significance for Africa, I called for Africans to come together and strengthen our infrastructure, increase trade with one another, bolster our regional security forces and alliances, and ease immigration within the continent, as a means of limiting our exposure when there’s political uncertainty in the west. Although France did the right thing on this occasion, there is no doubt the nationalist voices in the west are growing and becoming more powerful and so now more than ever, we need to heed the call to reduce our dependence on foreign countries and become more self reliant.