As is tradition, Emmanuel Macron will celebrate Christmas Friday with French soldiers deployed abroad, this year in Côte d’Ivoire, a country with which Paris wants to strengthen ties in the fight against terrorism.
Far from the social tensions which agitate France, the Head of State will respect a custom now well established: he will share the Christmas dinner, prepared by the head of the Elysée Palace, Guillaume Gomez, with a thousand soldiers on the military base from Port-Bouët, near Abidjan airport, where it will land late Friday afternoon.
After Niger in 2017 and Chad in 2018, he visited the French Forces in Côte d’Ivoire (FFCI), the second contingent of troops pre-positioned in Africa after that of Djibouti. These forces are currently supporting troops fighting jihadist groups in the Sahel. Macron will speak to soldiers who participated in the operation in which 13 soldiers died in November in Mali.
There have been ups and downs in the Franco-Ivorian relationship, but today it is looking good
The situation in the Sahel, which is causing great concern in Paris, will be one of the red threads of this trip: Mr. Macron will make a short stop on Sunday in Niger, to discuss it with President Mahamadou Issoufou, before the summit scheduled in France on 13 January with the leaders of five Sahelian countries.
On Saturday in Abidjan, Emmanuel Macron and his Ivorian counterpart Alassane Ouattara will relaunch the broken-down site of the International Academy for Combating Terrorism.
On the Ivorian side, we welcome « France’s strong involvement in helping African countries to face terrorism, » said Minister of Communication and government spokesman Sidi Touré to the AFP.
The country remains under the threat of jihadist, three years after the attack which left 19 dead in the seaside resort of Grand-Bassam.
“Côte d’Ivoire is a fundamental partner of France in Africa”, says the Elysée, because “today, the balance of the Sahelian economy and population movements (in West Africa) rests very largely on the political and economic stability ”of this country.
« Beautiful fixed ”
Macron’s visit comes in a tense political context in Côte d’Ivoire, ten months before the next presidential election, and nearly ten years after the 2010-2011 post-election crisis that left 3,000 people dead.
The country has long been France’s best ally in Africa during the reign (1960-1993) of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the « father of independence ».
But relations between Paris and its ex-colony became stormy under the presidency of Laurent Gbagbo (2000-2011) – marked by the outbreak of a rebellion and a French military intervention – with the development of an anti-French feeling within of part of the population.
To treat these wounds, MM. Ouattara and Macron will preside over a ceremony on Sunday in tribute to the nine French soldiers killed in 2004 in Bouaké, the country’s second city.
« There have been ups and downs in the Franco-Ivorian relationship, but today it is looking good, » said Sidi Touré.
On Saturday, Emmanuel Macron will try to bring to life the “spirit” of his 2017 speech in Ouagadougou, where he had redesigned Paris’ relationship with the continent, ensuring that there was “no more African policy for France” .
Having made youth and sport a priority for this diplomacy, he will travel to Koumassi, a popular commune in Abidjan, to inaugurate sports infrastructures, in the company of footballer Didier Drogba, ex-idol of Olympique de Marseille and from Chelsea.
Young people will also attend a debate with 300 students in the health field, to discuss the fight against AIDS and pandemics.
Two years after his first visit to Abidjan, during which he had laid the foundation stone for the metro, the French president and his Ivorian counterpart will finalize the funding for this huge 1.5 billion euro project which is due to start in 2020.
A dozen other agreements are expected to be discussed to « strengthen economic partnership » with Côte d’Ivoire, home to some 22,000 French people, half of whom are binational, according to the Elysee.
During discussions, the Ivorian president could raise the question of a reform of the CFA franc, requested by many African economists, and to which the French Minister of Finance, Bruno Le Maire, who will be present in Abidjan, said open.
At the same time, the West African countries will be at the summit in Nigeria on Saturday to think about a common currency on the model of the euro, already adopted in principle.