French president begins Africa tour in Gabon

French President Emmanuel Macron (right), visits the Raponda Walker Arboretum with the Gabon's Ministry of Water and Forests, the Sea and the Environment, Lee White in Libreville, Gabon, March 2, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

LIBREVILLE, Gabon — France's President Emmanuel Macron has begun a tour of Central Africa in a diplomatic drive to test a new "responsible relationship" with the continent as anti-French sentiment runs high in some former colonies.

Macron arrived late on Wednesday in Gabon for a conference on preserving tropical forests — an initiative that he and Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba unveiled at last year's UN climate conference.

Macron reiterated on Thursday that France harbored no desire to return to past policies of interfering in Africa.

"The age of Francafrique is well over," Macron said in remarks to the French community in Gabon, referring to France's post-colonization strategy of supporting authoritarian leaders to defend its interests.

In a speech on France's Africa policy on Monday, Macron called for a "mutual and responsible relationship" with the continent of more than 50 countries.

Macron gave some details of the redeployment of French forces, after their departure from Mali and the Central African Republic in 2022 and from Burkina Faso last month. He said there would be a "noticeable reduction" in the French troop presence in Africa "in the coming months" and a greater focus on training and equipping allied countries' forces.

More than 3,000 French soldiers are deployed in countries including Senegal, Gabon and Djibouti, according to official figures. Another 3,000 are in the Sahel region further north, including in Niger and Chad.

In his remarks in Libreville, Macron insisted that the reorganization was "neither a withdrawal nor disengagement but adapting an arrangement" with allies.

Macron has insisted Africa is a priority of his second term, and in July he went to Benin, Cameroon and Guinea-Bissau.

Macron is scheduled to fly to Angola on Thursday evening, the Republic of the Congo on Friday and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Saturday.

Anti-French rallies have been staged in recent months in the former colonies of Mali and Burkina Faso in the Sahel.

Agencies Via Xinhua