French President Emmanuel Macron is ready to step up support to African countries facing food and security concerns in a bid to stem Russia’s growing sway in the region.
Macron is visiting Cameroon, Benin and Guinea Bissau this week while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tours other countries in the continent as Russia seeks to strengthen its relations in Africa following its invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia has started a new kind of hybrid world war,” Macron said Wednesday in a joint press conference with his Benin counterpart Patrice Talon. “Russia is one of the last imperial colonial powers -- it decides to invade a neighboring country to defend its interests.”
“When you see them popping up over here, that’s what’s happening,” he added.
Macron said in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde on Tuesday that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports and attacks on grain warehouses have disrupted the global food supply and triggered shortages in Africa.
He promoted his so-called FARM initiative with which France and allies pledge to help developing countries boost their own agricultural capacity.
His remarks were a response to Russia’s narrative, which Lavrov reiterated a few days earlier on a stop in Egypt.
Lavrov said food shortages and inflation are a consequence of “illegal Western sanctions.” African countries have largely refrained from criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Macron has pledged to revamp France’s military commitment to African security even as French soldiers leave Mali, pushed out by the junta in power there in favor of forces from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.
French troops entered Mali in 2013 to stop al Qaeda-linked fighters from advancing toward the capital, Bamako. They ended up staying as violence spilled across borders in the Sahel region.
Macron said Tuesday that France’s renewed engagement will extend beyond the Sahel, to the Gulf of Guinea and “countries which now have to face terrorist groups which are expanding and shaking up the whole region.”
Still, France’s military presence in Mali and other African countries has faced local protests and accusations, partly fueled by Russian allegations that it is perpetuating another form of colonial rule. While Russia’s government denies having ties with the Wagner group, it stresses that security failures by Western countries in Africa prompt governments to seek alternative partners.