Can a Free-Market Solution Solve Malawi’s Poverty Crisis?

by Ibrahim B. Anoba

The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently reported that over 12 million Malawians could become poor by 2030 if poverty reduction rates remain the same. This is despite Malawi’s slight improvement in GDP per capita since 2004, and the implementation of numerous measures to counter poverty, including increased government spendings on infrastructure and social welfare programs. Rather than reduce poverty and stimulate economic development, these policies have further impoverished the nation–half of its population earns below 687 Malawian Kwacha (less than one US dollar) per day.

Malawi Ibrahim AnobaThe International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have assisted Malawi with numerous economic development policies since 1981 and have given millions of dollars in loans to support their implementation. Many required an increase in tax rates to make up for bigger spending on welfare programs like the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). But despite robust spending, these policies have been ineffective, mostly due to faulty structuring.

For instance, the SAPs contain proposals for trade liberalization and privatization, which are good recommendations considering Malawi’s need for a vibrant private sector, its implementation are, however, expensive for a low-income country like Malawi. The SAPs commits the country to expensive welfare schemes like agricultural subsidy programs and social safety nets. Policies like the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS II), the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP), and the Social Cash Transfer (SCT) have equally burdened the country’s revenue. The FISP alone targets 1.5 million annual beneficiaries by providing 6 million bags of seeds and fertilizers accounting to millions of dollars; the MGDS II and SCT include similarly expensive subsidy programs and all culminates into heavy financial burden Malawi has struggled to sustain. It is unlikely that Malawi’s capacity to finance them will change anytime soon, considering its dwindling revenue. Agricultural exports, which constitute 90 percent of Ethiopia’s annual income, and 80 percent of all labor force, have sharply declined due to fluctuations in international tobacco prices and the negative effect of drought on maize and cassava production.

Malawi’s economy is paying heavily for central planning. This is evident from its placement on the latest Ease of Doing Business Index (133) and global GDP competitiveness rankings (159). The country can still beat the negatives by adopting free market solutions in key sectors, especially agriculture. Privatization would open them to more investments that would result in increased economic output. This organically injects more money into the economy and increases government revenue to support the falling export earnings. Local markets would equally gain from a competitive economic climate. The cost of basic commodities like food and medical supplies would drastically reduce while the demand for labour increases. It can result in an increased share of working-age adults in the future and possibly create a demographic dividend in the end.

This increase in employment opportunities bounds to lessen government’s burden on safety nets and job creation. It is a sure way to avoid future economic disaster since Malawi must find jobs for its 6.8 million children in the next decade. Beside the labour gains, a competitive economy is necessary to attract investors. Eighty percent of Malawi’s labor force works in agriculture. The Malawian government can disengage from the sector and review its stringent regulations to reduce tax and import tariffs. If the country can achieve a competitive agricultural industry, it will eventually reflect on household income and GDP per capita.

Exploring the possibility of economic diversification would also fortify Malawi’s business climate. Having numerous productive sectors bounds to increase government revenue and shield the economy in case of shocks in the agricultural and manufacturing industries. Malawi’s overdependence on agriculture has made it vulnerable to unforeseen international market crises. But opening up the country’s budding tourism sector would reduce the pressure on agriculture and bolster its annual revenue.

Malawi’s tourism industry is among the most promising in the Southern Africa with numerous historical sites like Lake Malawi, Liwonde National Park and Mulange Mountain Reserve. Having more private investments in the industry would likely increase interest in sub-sectors especially entertainment and hospitality. Presently, tourism accounts for four percent of jobs and a similar percentage of GDP. If Malawi completely liberalized the sector, the country would have another prolific industry to its economic advantage.

Instead of the usual top-down strategies, Malawi should open its agricultural sector to more competition, diversify its economy, and build an inclusive business climate to help its mostly-young population thrive over the course of the next decade.

Market liberalization does not hurt. It simply gives  the economy a chance to grow without the hassle of centralized economic planning. After decades of unending economic travails, Malawians deserve a better life. All the government and their donors should do is simply give free markets a chance.

Ibrahim Anoba Africa Young Voices

Ibrahim B. Anoba



Ibrahim Anoba is an African Political Economy and Foreign Affairs pundit. He is an Advocate at Young Voices and lives in Lagos, Nigeria. You can follow him @Ibrahim_Anoba.

Remarks by Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi at 11th U.S.-Africa Business Summit

President Filipe Nyusi of the Republic of Mozambique delivered these remarks at the Corporate Council on Africa’s 11th biennial U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Washington, D.C., on June 14, 2017. Text provided by the Office of the President.

I was quite delighted to accept the invitation to attend this 11th Biannual USA-Africa Business Summit. This is the major business forum between Africa and the USA.
Corporate Council on Africa U.S. Africa Business Summit 2017The diversity of the companies that comprise this platform offers a number of options for business and economic cooperation that promote an integrated, endogenous and sustainable development, particularly for the emerging African economies.
Therefore, we have come to the USA with a business mission. We intend to consolidate Mozambique’s position as a safe a strategic destiny of foreign investment in Southern Africa.
We also want to reaffirm the role of the USA as a strategic partner for Mozambique’s development.

For my remarks I have chosen the theme: “USA engaging the American business people in consolidating mutually beneficial partnerships for prosperity.”

Ladies and Gentlemen,
History has recollected that the last Mozambican Head of State to attend this event was President Joaquim Chissano, in 1997, at the First Biannual Summit, precisely 20 years ago!

Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi FRELIMO

Filipe Nyusi

At that time and counting with the invaluable support of the USA, Mozambique conquered an outstanding position in Africa and in the world. Today we have come to say, Mozambique is back as a country of prosperous economy. Mozambique is back, not only because high economic value deposits of mineral resources, including coal, natural gas, among others, have been discovered, whose exploitation counts with the presence of American companies.
Mozambique is back to transform into wealth a number of potentials and business possibilities available. These opportunities cover sectors such as power generation and transmission, infrastructures, manufacture and sale of different consuming industrial products and extensive arable lands for agricultural development.
Last week during the National Forum on Infrastructures, we stated that it is now time to look forward.
Mozambique is sending vital signals of overcoming obstacles.
During this month we launched the South Coral floating LNG project in the Ruvuma Basin, an investment which attracted 15 international banks and five credit agencies for exports.
This is a major vote of confidence in Mozambique and in our Government.
Hence our statement that Mozambique is back, foreign investments are secure.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you might be aware, Mozambique is faced with challenges related to the economic crisis and the restoration of peace and political stability, a process in which, once again, we count on the support of the USA.
Republic of Mozambique Office of the PresidentWe nurture a justified hope that this visit may contribute to quality steps towards overcoming these challenges. These are bottlenecks not only to our prosperity, but also to further foreign investment projects in Mozambique, including American investment which is quite promising.
The People of Mozambique and the world business community are waiting, with high expectations, for developments in the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Ruvuma Basin, particularly, natural gas projects.
The USA marks presence in this sector as a strategic partner of Mozambique. The American investment can make our country one of the major producers of natural gas in the world, both upstream and in all its value chain.
Therefore we say: Mozambique is back to the economic growth and development route.
In addition to business and economic relations, we would like to underscore in this Summit, the American Government’s assistance to our development through specific development projects.
On the other hand, the United States of America, over the next years, may become a major single investor in our country. These are transformative investments of the structure of the Mozambican economy, and they will make a sharp positive turn in the history of Mozambique and that of her relations with the USA.
Let me also acknowledge with great admiration the critical role that the Corporate Council on Africa has played in promoting investment opportunities in Africa.
When others looked at Africa as a marginalised continent host to various problems, ranging from armed conflicts, natural disasters, chronic poverty and political instability, this organisation looks at Africa as a continent of hope. It visualises an African continent of great potentials and immense opportunities that are likely to transform it and mainstream it into the global economy.

Dear Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We also bring along the agricultural sector which is the least exhaustible traditional activity and the backbone of our economy.
CCA Corporate Council on Africa Business summit 2017Mozambique possesses land for irrigation of about 3 million hectares, in more than eight priority river basins.
The major advantage is the existence of a secure market of agriculture products at national, regional and international level.
It easier to enumerate what is not grown in my country rather than list what is produced. Mozambique can almost grow everything.
We urge and encourage the American business people to take advantage of the enabling business environment, and investment opportunities and potential that exist in Mozambique to diversify their interventions.
These interventions can cover sectors of manufacturing, services, transport and communication, hotels and tourism which make the economic activities more integrated.
With a view to improving further the business environment in Mozambique, our Government will continue to undertake legal and institutional reforms aimed at streamlining procedures to increasingly attract investments.
We would like to take this opportunity to commend the African Development Bank, which is here represented by its President. His vision enables us to have this bank as an African partner for Africa and his relentless endeavours meet our specific needs.
To other African brothers and sisters here present, and beyond, we wish to congratulate them for their joint efforts to bring about progress and welfare for our peoples, in the context of the African Union Agenda 2063.
We would also like to reiterate our desire that the Corporate Council on Africa remains in the forefront in promoting investment opportunities in our continent and in helping us to build a better future for the coming generations based on an approach of sustainable and inclusive development.
To conclude, we would like to extend our appreciation to the organisers of this event for the structure and diversity of the topics on the agenda. This Summit has opened opportunities for more interaction between African and American political and business leaders.
We wish successful deliberations to the 11th USA-Africa Business Biannual Summit and that its outcomes reflect the continuous commitment of the United States of America to the development of Africa and of Mozambique, in particular.
Thank you very much for your attention!

Remarks by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross at U.S.-Africa Business Summit

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross delivered these remarks at the Corporate Council on Africa’s 11th U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Washington, D.C., on June 14, 2016. The text was provided “as delivered.”

Good morning. Thank you, Florie for that kind introduction.

Corporate Council on Africa U.S. Africa Business Summit 2017I also want to thank Chairman Jeff Sturchio (Ster-chee-o) and the entire team at the Corporate Council on Africa – not only for hosting this year’s summit – but for your efforts to strengthen U.S.-Africa trade over the last two decades.

I am honored to welcome President Nyusi (New-see), African Development Bank President Adesina, and the many other ministers and dignitaries here with us today …

And welcome to the esteemed group of business leaders participating in the summit.

When President Trump met with African leaders in Italy for the G7 meetings, he said, “Africa is a place of opportunity.”

And as I said during my confirmation hearing, we cannot ignore such a large, dynamic and vital part of the world.

We have received great feedback from American companies and members of our Advisory Council on Africa regarding the economic landscape of the continent.

This year, 6 African nations are on pace to be among the top 10 fastest growing countries in the world.

Visitors to African cities see cranes dotting the skyline and investors arriving from all over the world.

Visitors also notice web-based apps, such as Hello Tractor — an “Uber-Like” platform that allows rural farmers to access tractors.

Over the next five years, 19 sub-Saharan African countries are expected to achieve average growth rates of five percent or higher.

And over the last five years combined, Ethiopia’s growth rate has been second highest in the world.

Africa is moving steadily on a trajectory of economic growth and increasing self-reliance — a vision this Administration supports.

In realizing that vision, African and international efforts to promote peace and implement economic reforms are bringing a new generation into a new consumer class.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross

Wilbur Ross

Studies by McKinsey estimated that, by 2025, an additional 90 million African households will enter the consumer class, contributing to a total household purchasing power of $2.1 trillion.

This buying power is essential for sustained economic growth.

That growth is generating demand for new infrastructure, new machinery and equipment, and new consumer products and services.

The critical question that decision makers in Africa, including many of you, must ask is this: As these upward growth trends continue, with what types of partners do you want to collaborate?

I believe that, the more African nations partner with U.S. businesses, the better off both the United States and Africa will be.

In 2016, U.S. exports to Africa were approximately $21.81 billion – nearly double the $10.96 billion in U.S. exports in 2000.

Total trade between Africa and the U.S. was approximately $48.3 billion last year, up nearly $10 billion since 2000.

And our trade deficit declined in that period from $16.7 billion to $4.7 billion.

All of these numbers are moving in the right direction, so let’s work hard to have those trends continue.

Through our dedicated Commerce representatives on the ground, we hear African customers are actively seeking out American goods and services.

This is not only due to the quality of American products — It is also because American businesses have a great reputation for local engagement and corporate responsibility.

Our trade relationship is vital to the security and stability of both the United States and Africa.

But our relationship with Africa has to continue its transition from being “AID-based” to “TRADE-based.”

To that end, having two-way trade agreements, not just temporary trade preferences, would create long-term, sustainable improvements to quality of life on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bilateral trade agreements, rather than large, multilateral ones, can be very effective tools in meeting the long-term interests of the partners involved.

And studies show that developing countries with liberalized trade tend to grow faster than those that don’t.

In the meantime, we must ensure countries currently benefiting from trade preferences granted by our African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA – “ah-GO-ah”), continue complying with the eligibility requirements established in U.S. law.

The Administration takes these congressional requirements very seriously.

And in applying our laws, we will vigorously protect the rights of U.S. companies and workers in the global arena.

Since its inception in 2000, AGOA (“ah-GO-ah”), has given duty-free and quota-free access to the U.S. market on approximately 6,000 products from qualifying African countries.

And so, I would contend that the countries that meet the AGOA (“ah-GO-ah”) Eligibility Requirements will include the continent’s major success stories in the future.

They are the countries that have opened their economies – not restricted access to their market.

They are the countries that have: fought corruption, promoted good governance and business ethics, and sought to enforce intellectual property protections.

All of which are critical for generating growth and innovation.

One excellent opportunity that African countries currently face is the new WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, or T-F-A.

This agreement streamlines customs operations, enhances transparency, removes red tape, and reduces costs to exporters and importers.

It came into force in February of this year.

U.S. business leaders engaged in Africa recently advised the President:

“Full implementation of the TFA is a ready-made opportunity to support the changes that Africa needs to address administrative burdens that raise trade-related transaction costs to unsustainable levels.”

And WTO estimates that, if the least developed countries fully implement this agreement, it would reduce costs and enhance competitiveness, generating a 35 percent increase in exports.

Trade facilitation already forms a key part of the reform agenda of African regional economic communities.

Wilbur Ross Bloomberg Businessweek MAGAThe TFA strengthens these efforts and provides avenues for technical assistance.

I challenge the leaders in this room to fully implement the TFA.

This brings me to a broader point.

As Commerce Secretary, I work to ensure American businesses face favorable operating environments in the countries they conduct business.

This is key to ensuring the current U.S.–Africa commercial relationship has a solid foundation for future growth based on mutual interests.

And so, I want to take a moment to speak directly to my colleagues from African governments.

It is important to make sure that U.S. companies are in the best position possible to enter new markets in Africa – and that those companies already there are successful.

I hope that when U.S. companies seeking to do business in your country encounter obstacles, you will give them the consideration they deserve and work constructively to resolve any issues.

As a former global investor myself, I appreciate how important an open and transparent business climate is to any company looking to operate in a given country or region.

Access to markets, recognition of truly international standards, due process in procurement and protection of intellectual property: These are the factors that help foster mutually beneficial relationships between U.S. companies and African governments seeking to attract investment and create jobs.

To illustrate my point, the need for infrastructure development is huge.

And the way projects are procured plays a major role in their success.

There have been many failed infrastructure projects that can be traced back to the procurement stage.

In many countries in Africa, and around the world, for that matter, procurement is decided on the basis of the lowest price.

But while many may think they are saving money, we have seen repeatedly that when life cycles and quality factors are not considered in the procurement process, projects frequently face large cost overruns, safety or performance issues, and delays.

In short, you get what you pay for.

And so low cost procurement has not always been good for Africa.

Nor has it been good for U.S. companies, who tell us they can’t or won’t enter markets where low cost procurement is the norm.

In all, I am encouraged about the U.S.–Africa economic relationship.

We’ve recently witnessed several very positive developments regarding our trade relationship with Africa that give us hope for the future.

Since January 2014, the Commerce Department’s Advocacy Center has helped American companies win 29 separate major tenders in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The value of these “wins” was approximately $7.6 billion, with $2 billion in U.S. export content.

We have also seen an ever-increasing number of small and medium sized American businesses exporting to Africa.

U.S. firms are actively bidding on an additional 147 tenders in the region valued at more than $44 billion.

We’ve witnessed more and more American businesses pursing projects across the entire continent – not just in a few targeted markets.

And we’ve started to witness a small but incrementally growing number of African companies investing and creating jobs in the United States.

For example, Sasol (SAH-Sole), the South African energy firm, is fast approaching completion of a $9 billion ethane plant in Westlake, Louisiana.

The project is creating more than 500 full-time, high-paying manufacturing jobs, more than 5,000 in construction, and thousands more support jobs in Louisiana and across the United States.

We all can benefit from more of these exchanges in both directions.

I hope you will consider the Department of Commerce and the numerous Africa experts on our team as a resource as you continue your great work.

We do everything from providing market analysis and research, to assisting firms in identifying local partners or customers.

Beyond that, I look forward to gaining further insight from our Advisory Council on Africa members – all of which are private companies successfully doing business in Africa and supporting job creation in the United States.

U.S. companies continue to make their presence known in Africa because American ingenuity, premium brands, life cycle support, and technology transfers are key differentiators that we bring to the table.

We are headed in the right direction, but there is always room to improve.

I look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Thank you again for having me today.

Western leaders take their eyes off Africa at wrong moment

Stephen Chan, SOAS, University of London

Almost none of the Western world’s leaders have paid much attention to Africa in recent months. One exception was France’s newly-elected president, Emmanuel Macron, who visited Mali shortly after his inauguration. His trip was partly a show of solidarity with his country’s military effort there, and partly a gesture to the world that he’s serious about confronting insurgency and terrorism. But it was ultimately little more than gesture – one of the various signals new presidents try to send in their early days.

Not all presidents get it right, to put it mildly. And as far as Africa goes, a batch of new world leaders have barely bothered.

The US, for one, seems uninterested. Beset by a hurricane of gaffes, failed initiatives and legal trouble, Donald Trump still hasn’t appointed an assistant secretary of state for Africa. This position is normally the highest post directly concerned with the US’s Africa policy. It has been held in the past by such heavyweights as Chester Crocker, who managed the Reagan administration’s approach to apartheid South Africa. But four-plus months after Trump’s inauguration, Africa is barely on his administration’s radar.

Peter Pham Africa eyes

J. Peter Pham

What Washington gossip there is rates J. Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council the most likely candidate. But even if he were nominated, Pham would join a State Department desperately short on confidence and morale, its budgets about to be slashed and many of its senior personnel shorn away. In particular, aid for Africa will be a big casualty of the cuts.

The UK’s election campaign, meanwhile, has seen no mention of Africa at all, save for a debate over whether the 2011 intervention in Libya has caused terrorism “blowback”. None of the party leaders have said anything about the continent, aid or security – and nothing about democracy.

The Foreign Office minister responsible for Africa, Tobias Ellwood, is in fact responsible for both Africa and the Middle East – an impossible portfolio in which Africa will be the junior partner, especially as all ministers are made to join in the frantic search for new markets and trading partners as Brexit looms.

And as West averts its eyes, it is overlooking a strange collection of increasingly bizarre drifts away from democracy.

Steep decline

In Zambia, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema is in prison awaiting trial for treason – ostensibly because he refused to give way to President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade. Hichilema’s legal petitions contesting last year’s elections have thus far been chewed up in the curious workings of Zambia’s senior courts, which have far from distinguished themselves.

Embarrassingly, South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane lately sought to attend Hichilema’s trial but was denied entry to Zambia at Lusaka International Airport. The Zambian authorities did this despite his having broken no law, despite his being a member of the South African parliament, and despite his leading an opposition party that last year defeated the ANC to take control of most of the country’s major cities. They also did it despite the fact that there’s meant to be free travel within the countries of the Southern African Development Community.

It all looks like the behaviour of a curiously introspective government, one that has suddenly realised the outside world isn’t watching.

Back in South Africa, meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma continues to be rocked by scandals and revolts within his own ANC party as even his party colleagues lose patience with his cynical cronyism. Still tainted by his ties to the oligarchic Gupta family and the self-serving way he disposed of his finance minister, Zuma is now trying to keep the presidency in the family by nominating as his successor his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who made a distinct lack of impact as chair of the African Union.

Robert Mugabe Stephen Chan Zimbabwe eyesA similar feeling of drab continuity persists next door in Zimbabwe. While Robert Mugabe stubbornly remains alive, the opposition – for all the talk of a grand coalition of fractured parties – is as divided as ever. Even party leaders such as Tendai Biti, a former finance minister, are now saying the opposition can’t win the 2018 elections.

This all makes Zimbabwe rather an anomaly in its neighbourhood: a stagnant, bankrupt country buffered north and south by wealthier ones racked with tension. There seems little hope that Zambia’s Lungu will return to a more accommodating and genuine sort of democracy, and Zuma isn’t guaranteed an easy escape to the retirement home he’s reportedly seeking in Dubai.

The ConversationAll the while, the US and Europe hardly seem to care. Perhaps it counts as a sort of “independence” from the scrutiny of former colonial overlords – but as these countries’ democratic oppositions are finding, living in disregard carries its own perils and pitfalls.

Stephen Chan, Professor of World Politics, SOAS, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

France & Africa: don’t confuse Macron’s rhetoric with reality

Meera Venkatachalam, University of Mumbai and Amy Niang, University of the Witwatersrand

The 2017 French election was watched with great nervousness by millions across Francophone Africa. That’s because the French president remains a pivotal figure in about 20 former French colonies on the continent.

Over the past 60 years France has maintained disproportionate influence over its former African colonies. This has included control over their military and currencies.

Despite being led by different presidents over the past six decades, the French government’s policy on Africa has been faithful to its neo-colonial roots and grounded in a yearning for the lost Empire.

But will Emmanuel Macron’s presidency herald a significant change to France’s relationship with its ex-colonies?

France Africa Francafrique Emmanuel Macron rhetoric

French President Emmanuel Macron with Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
EPA/Christophe Petit Tesson


Unlike any other French leader Macron has openly expressed remorse for aspects of France’s colonial past. His election rhetoric suggested that he viewed France’s neo-colonial dominance with some embarrassment, preferring to loosen France’s hold on its former colonies.

But it’s one thing to speak of France’s need to confront its colonial past. When it comes to restoring French “confidence”, as Macron has promised, policy continuity, rather than change, will prevail.

A long legacy

In the aftermath of World War II, Charles De Gaulle formulated a strategy that was meant to define France’s relations with Africa in the post-imperial era.

The plan was to shore up France’s international standing by ensuring a continued relationship with its colonies. In fact, the short-lived Franco-African Union of the 1940s-50s was an attempt to establish a form of federation between France and its former colonies.

Instead, what sprung up across Francophone countries in West and Central Africa was a network of French commercial, military and political interests. These interests worked to maintain the status quo of African economic and political elites.

Francafrique had strong colonial underpinnings. Former French colonies provided France with valuable raw material and minerals while opening their markets to French imports. In return, France guaranteed national security and a steady flow of aid.

France also propped up francophile leaders, in particular Senegal’s Leopold Sédar Senghor and Cote d’Ivoire’s Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Both saw themselves as the guardians of a paternalistic order that kept Francophone Africa under French tutelage.

More than that, France retained control of the CFA – the basic monetary unit of Central and West Africa. To this day African countries such as Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Gabon, are required to deposit two-thirds of their foreign exchange surpluses into a French operations account.

During Francois Mitterrand’s term in office (1981 – 1995) 60,000 French troops were stationed in Francophone Africa. They supported several unsavoury governments, including the Hutu regime presided over by Juvenal Habyarimana in Rwanda, which went on to murder 800,000 Tutsis and some Hutus in the 1994 genocide. French soldiers did little to stop the bloodbath.

However, relations between France and its former colonies entered a new phase in the post 9/11 era. The Islamic Sahel and Arab North Africa became a new frontier in the global fight against terror.

French investment and commitment to development faded, paving the way for bilateral funding. Policy moved from guarding strategic assets to securing economic assets by any means necessary.

Under President Jacques Chirac (1995-2007), French policy was distinctly interventionist.

In 2002, France extended military support to Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire when his regime was threatened by a rebel insurgency. It remained heavily involved in Cote d’Ivoire until 2011 when Gbagbo was dislodged after a bitterly contested election.

The post-Chirac era

Chirac was the last of the paternalistic, Gaullist French leaders. After his presidency, France became unapologetically mercantilist: it remains in Francophone Africa to protect its nationals, to guard its assets and to counter Chinese competition for natural resources and markets.

After Chirac, came President Nicolas Sarkozy who had little empathy for Africa. Sarkozy’s policy was centred on immigration, an issue that was at the top of his government’s agenda. As a way to deter immigration he adopted a “co-development” strategy, which saw France invest in education in Francophone Africa.

Socialist president Francois Hollande (2012 – 2017) became more involved in Africa than any other president, contradicting his apparently progressive rhetoric, which suggested a rethink of France’s neo-colonial relationship with the continent.

During Hollande’s term security issues that threatened French interests led to a series of military interventions. These included Operation Serval and Operation Barkhane in Mali.

There were also military interventions in Cote d’Ivoire, and the Central African Republic.

What started out as an ideological policy to maintain soft power through cultural and economic ties between France and francophone Africa had gradually become a coercive, militarised relationship.

The age of Macron

During the election campaign Emmanuel Macron told Le Figaro that France’s colonial occupation of Algeria was mired by “crimes against humanity” and “acts of barbarism”.

Macron is the first self-styled apologist to take office in France. He is calling for the severing of France’s relationship with Francophone Africa, but on African terms. Macron argues that a gradual phasing out of the CFA franc and withdrawal of French troops should be implemented if that’s what Africans want.

But, nearly 60 years after African independence, France and Francophone Africa remain entangled beyond separation. French companies still have a quasi-monopoly over the most strategic areas in Francophone economies. Examples include electricity, telecommunications, infrastructure, airports and harbours. France’s continued influence on Francophone African foreign policy is apparent in Africa’s policy alignments.

Macron is a neo-liberal and former investment banker determined to open Africa up for greater trade even amid security concerns. His first visit outside Europe was to French military forces in Mali. Some see this as a sign that his presidency may have an increasingly militaristic impact on Africa.

The ConversationMacron’s sober view of colonial history therefore should be taken with a pinch of salt, as he’s unlikely to loosen France’s grip over Africa.

Meera Venkatachalam, Senior Fellow in African Studies, University of Mumbai and Amy Niang, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.