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Macron in Cameroon offers look at past, help for future

July 27, 2022

French President Emmanuel Macron began a three-country African tour Tuesday. He promised more defense cooperation and an honest look at the past.

French President Emmanuel Macron (l) and Cameroonian President Paul Biya (r) shake hands in the capital Yaounde as two uniformed men stand behind them 
French President Macron (l) and Cameroon's President Biya (r) addressed the past but are interested in forging a futureImage: Saabi Jeakespier/AA/picture alliance

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday began a three-country West African tour that kicked off in Cameroon and will continue in Benin and Guinea-Bissau Wednesday.

Macron traveled to Africa in hopes of resetting France's often difficult relationships with former colonies

Macron invites historians to shed light on 'painful' colonial past

That was very much part of Macron's message in Cameroon, where he promised to open up France's archives "in full" so that historians could shed light on "painful moments" of the past. 

The 44-year-old president called for French and Cameroonian historians to establish "responsibilities" through investigation. One particularly dark chapter, for instance, was the intense repression meted out on Cameroonian nationalists before independence in 1960.

During that time the French army killed tens of thousands of supporters of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC). 

On Monday, politicians in Cameroon called for Macron to address the "crimes" France committed while a colonial power.  

In 2015, Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande acknowledged "tragic" moments in France's colonial past. And Macron himself commissioned Algerian-born French historian Benjamin Stora to compile a report on France's colonial history in Algeria, but stopped short of delivering any apologies.

Macron said France "looked our past in the face," and recognized its own use of colonial power as "a crime against humanity."  

France also returned looted historical artifacts to Benin in 2021. The objects had originally been taken in 1892. 

Looking into the future of the Chad Basin

But Macron is also in the region with an eye to the future, not just the past. In meetings with President Paul Biya in Cameroon's capital Yaounde, the two discussed counterterrorism and security cooperation in Western Africa's Chad Basin

Cameroon requested France's cooperation. The request runs counter to recent French experiences in Africa, specifically in Mali, where a military junta working with Russian mercenaries told France its forces were no longer welcome in the country after nearly a decade of fighting Islamist terrorists. 

In a trend that worries Western observers, Russia has increasingly swelled the continent with mercenaries offering muscle and influence in exchange for natural resources.

Macron is expected to engage in further talks addressing issues such as supply chain bottlenecks and food security fears as the war in Ukraine impacts countries much farther afield.

"European economic sanctions on Russia that are now affecting Africa are intended to stop Russia's attack of Ukraine's sovereignty and not to punish Africans," Macron said in Yaounde. "France will assist African countries to face the shocks caused by the war by encouraging local investments in agriculture to increase food production."

Mali seeks closer ties with Russia

js/jsi (AFP, AP, dpa)