DAKAR, Senegal. French President Emmanuel Macron visited West and Central Africa this week and denounced the “hypocrisy” of African leaders who refused to challenge Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Macron also warned against the growing influence of Russian “disinformation” in the region and accused Russia of using energy and food in a new type of “hybrid” war.
The French president’s three-day tour of West Africa began as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was finishing his trip to Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo. Mr. Lavrov argued that Russia was not responsible for the global food shortage and called on African leaders to abandon the global order imposed by the West.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, most African countries have maintained a stance of neutrality, refusing to side with Ukraine and arguing that the conflict has nothing to do with them. This stance has irritated many Western officials who have tried to rally African countries to Ukraine, despite being courted by Russia as well.
On Wednesday, Mr Macron tried to counter Mr Lavrov’s rhetoric by calling Russia an “imperial colonial power” that has decided to “invade a neighboring country to protect its interests.”
“When you see them sticking their heads into your countries, don’t think otherwise, even if they say otherwise,” Mr Macron said at a press conference in Benin with the country’s president, Patrice Talon.
Mr Macron disputed suggestions that France provided more financial and military assistance to Ukraine than to its allies in Africa. In Benin, he promised to deliver more weapons to the country, which was facing sporadic attacks in its northern territories.
In Cameroon, the French president said that “too often” African leaders could not “call a war a war and say who started it” and offered an explanation: “due to diplomatic pressure – I’m not a fool.” said while standing at a press conference along with Cameroonian President Paul Biya.
The war in Ukraine has exacerbated numerous food crises on the continent, including in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. But many African countries have long-standing military ties with Russia, and Mr Macron’s visit to Cameroon comes just months after the West African nation signed a defense deal with Moscow.
Mr Macron was due to visit Guinea-Bissau on Thursday. The trip, his first trip outside of Europe since he was re-elected in May, comes as anti-French sentiment spreads across French-speaking West Africa and weeks before the end of a nine-year military mission in Mali.
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where France fell out with the country’s military junta.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, also plans to visit Uganda and Ghana next week to discuss the implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine in Africa.
In Benin, Mr Macron said Russia was waging what he called a hybrid war, manipulating information, food and energy to gain leverage over other countries that might side with Ukraine. He also accused Russia of deploying mercenary groups in African countries to advance his interests.
“I think this worries the African continent,” said Mr Macron.
Eliane Peltier reported from Dakar, Senegal, and Aurélien Breeden from Paris.