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France accuses Russia, Turkey of feeding hostility in Africa

November 20, 2020

President Emmanuel Macron accused Russia and Turkey of promoting anti-France sentiment in Africa, in an interview published Friday where he sought to defend his vision for the role of the former colonial power in the continent.

Macron also railed against Guinea President Alpha Conde for clinging onto power, while categorically ruling out negotiating with jihadists to ease the task of the French force deployed in the Sahel region of Africa.

“There is a strategy at work, sometimes led by African leaders, but especially by foreign powers such as Russia or Turkey, who play on post-colonial resentment,” he told Jeune Afrique magazine.

“We must not be naive on this subject: many of those who speak, who make videos, who are present in the French-speaking media are funded by Russia or Turkey,” he added.

He also said Turkey was contributing to misunderstandings over his defence of the right to caricature in the wake of last month’s beheading outside Paris of a teacher who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

“When I decided to attack radical Islam… my words were distorted. By the Muslim Brotherhood — quite widely — but also by Turkey, which has the ability to influence a lot of public opinion, including in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

Reiterating a position that has caused immense controversy in France and beyond over the last months, he added: “I am not attacking Islam, I am attacking Islamist terrorism.”

Tensions between France and Turkey have risen to new levels over a range of disputes in recent months, including Syria, Libya, the eastern Mediterranean and now France’s crackdown on radical Islam.

France has called for a total rethink of the European Union’s relations with Turkey, which under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has significantly built up its presence and influence in Africa.

Russia has also played an increasingly active role in Africa, with analysts pointing to the presence in several countries of the pro-Kremlin mercenary group Wagner.

Macron did not give examples or name media outlets where he alleged such anti-French sentiments are aired.

– ‘Did not send congratulations’ –

In a wide-ranging interview, Macron also ruled out negotiating with jihadist groups in the Sahel region of Africa, where France has a thousands-strong force deployed.

“We don’t talk with terrorists. We fight,” Macron said, as debates intensify in France and Africa over the long-term strategy of its Barkhane force.

He said that France could talk to different political and other groups, but not terrorist entities “which continue to kill civilians and soldiers, including our soldiers.”

And Macron accused Guinea’s Conde of organising a referendum on constitutional changes “solely to be able to keep power,” adding that the situation in the country was “serious” following post-election unrest.

“It is for this reason that I have still not sent him a letter of congratulations,” Macron said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week accused the Guinean authorities of using “excessive” force in quelling demonstrations after the October 18 election in what it termed a “brutal crackdown on protesters.”

The Guinean government on Friday accused HRW and other NGOs of using “tendentious” practices.

Macron added he hoped to visit Rwanda in 2021 despite continued tensions with the country and its President Paul Kagame over the 1994 genocide.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.