President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France will reorganize its military bases on the continent, during a speech ahead of a tour of African countries.
He specified that France would not close its bases, but that they would be "Africanized" and turned into "academies" or bases co-run by French and African armies. The announcement comes on the heels of souring ties between France and several African nations.
What did Macron say?
"The bases as they exist now are a heritage from the past," Macron said in an address on Monday evening.
"The change will happen in the coming months with a noticeable reduction of our numbers and a greater presence in these bases of our African partners," Macron said. This "reorganization ... does not intend to be a withdrawal," he added.
The French president said there would be a notable fall in French military personnel but an increase in an effort to provide training and equipment.
The bases would also see a "rise in the presence of their African partners according to goals defined" by these partners, he said.
France doesn't want to be a 'scapegoat'
Some African countries have criticized France for failing to curb Islamist militancy in the Sahel region in particular.
French troops pulled out of Mali last year after the country's military leadership began cooperating with the Russian mercenary Wagner Group.
In January, Burkina Faso gave France one month to withdraw its troops, and officially ended French military operations in the country in February.
Macron said he would not allow France to become "the ideal scapegoat" in Africa. He also said he refused to be drawn into an outdated competition between powers for control of the continent.
Wagner Group 'preying' on resources, says Macron
The French president described the Russian mercenary Wagner Group as the "life insurance of failing regimes in Africa," saying it contains "criminal mercenaries."
The Wagner Group is already active in Mali and the Central African Republic; reports also suggest the group is now looking to get a foothold in Burkina Faso, which Russia denies.
Macron said African nations would eventually stop turning to the mercenary group, nothing that they are "preying on mines, raw materials."
Macron heads off on a four-nation tour of central African countries starting on Wednesday as Paris seeks to counter growing Chinese and Russian influence on the continent.
He will first visit Gabon for an environmental summit, followed by Angola, then the Republic of Congo, and finally the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
dh/rs (AFP, Reuters)