French President Emmanuel Macron is on a visit to Ivory Coast where he visited French troops and held talks with President Alassane Ouattara aimed at strengthening cooperation against Islamist militants in the region.
Macron arrived in Ivory Coast on Friday to celebrate an early Christmas with French troops, saying Paris would work to give “new force” to the regional fight against Islamist militants. Macron and his wife Brigitte were met at the airport by his Ivorian counterpart, Alassane Ouattara.
The jihadist insurgency in several poor Sahel nations is a top item on Macron’s agenda in 48-hour stay in the region where attacks have spread since the Islamist militancy began seven years ago in Mali.
On a trip away from the weeks of strikes gripping France, Macron’s personal chef travelled with him to cook dinner for around 1,000 troops at the military base in Port-Bouet, near Abidjan’s airport.
“I hope we can give new depth, new commitments, a new force to this operation and win a fight that is key to the stability and security of the Sahel,” the French leader said addressing troops at Port-Bouet.
“We will keep up the fight against jihadist terrorists. We will continue to do so with our African partners and with our European and international partners,” he said. “Because if we let the threat flourish, it will impact us too.”
Speaking to a group from the French community in Abidjan, Macron announced that 33 terrorists had been “neutralised” in Mali on Saturday near the border with Mauritania.
Despite some 4,500 French troops in the Sahel region, alongside a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali, the conflict has engulfed the centre of the country and spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
The leaders of five Sahel nations are due to attend a summit in Paris on January 13, when Macron said they would clarify the “political and strategic framework” of the operation against the militants.
Macron meet several French soldiers who took part in November in an anti-terrorist operation in Mali, where 13 men lost their lives.
On Sunday, Macron will pay a flying visit for talks with President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, where jihadist attacks are frequent, as in both neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso.
Macron spent Christmas in 2017 with troops deployed to Niger and went last year to Chad.
CFA currency becomes ECO
On Saturday evening, the West African Economic and Monetary Union also reached an agreement with France to make changes to the CFA franc, Ouattara announced at a joint press conference. This marks a historic shift away from the former colonial power.
Under the agreement, the currency remains pegged to the euro and will be renamed ECO. It also scraps a requirement for countries to keep 50% of reserves in the French treasury and the need for a French representative on the currency union’s board.
Speaking after the meeting, Macron said “colonialism was a grave mistake,” and called for “turning the page” on the past.
Macron also said France was often viewed as having a “hegemonistic view and the trappings of colonialism that was a grave mistake and a fault of the Republic.”
During his election campaign for presidency Macron had created a storm by calling France’s colonisation of Algeria a “crime against humanity”.
In a 2017 TV interview, he said French actions in Algeria, which achieved independence in 1962 after eight years of war, were “genuinely barbaric, and constitute a part of our past that we have to confront by apologising”.
Earlier that day, Macron and Ouattara visited an International Counter-Terrorism Academy launched by the two countries near Abidjan in October 2018.
Macron also visited the rundown Abidjan district of Koumassi with Didier Drogba, a former hero of the Olympique de Marseille and Chelsea football clubs, to inaugurate sports facilities.
Two years after a first trip to Abidjan when he laid the foundation stone for a metro network, Macron is due to finalise plans with Ouattara to finance the vast construction effort, estimated at €1.5 billion ($1.66 billion).