President Emmanuel Macron arrived late Monday in Cameroon at the start of a three-nation tour of western Africa as he seeks to reboot France’s post-colonial relationship with the continent.
Macron was welcomed at the airport in Yaounde at around 10:40 pm by Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute.
The first trip of his new term outside Europe, which will also take him to Benin and Guinea-Bissau, should allow Macron to “show the commitment of the president in the process of renewing the relationship with the African continent”, said a French presidential official, who asked not to be named.
Macron is due to hold talks Tuesday morning at the presidential palace with his counterpart Paul Biya, 89, who has ruled Cameroon with an iron fist for nearly 40 years.
They are expected to discuss security in Cameroon, which has been riven by ethnic violence and an insurgency by anglophone separatists who have been fighting for independence for two English-speaking provinces since 2017. Northern Cameroon has also seen attacks by Boko Haram jihadists.
Macron had provoked Biya’s indignation in 2020 after declaring he would apply “maximum pressure” on the president over “intolerable” violence in the West African country.
His visit comes at a time when former colonial power France has seen its influence decline in the face of China, India and Germany, particularly in the economic and commercial sectors.
After lunch with Biya and his wife Chantal, Macron will meet representatives of youth and civil society.
He will end the day in “Noah Village”, hosted by former tennis champion Yannick Noah, who is developing a leisure and education centre in a popular district of Yaounde, where he lives for several months a year.
Macron will move on Wednesday to Benin, which has faced deadly attacks from jihadists, who have spread from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea nations.
Benin was long praised for its thriving multi-party democracy. But critics say its democracy has steadily eroded under President Patrice Talon over the last half-decade.
On Thursday, Macron will finish his tour in Guinea-Bissau, which has been riven by political crises at a time when its president, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, is preparing to take the helm of the Economic Community of West African States.
All three countries have been criticised by activists over their rights records, but the Elysee has insisted that governance and rights issues will be raised, albeit “without media noise but in the form of direct exchanges between the heads of states”.