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Macron begins visit to Africa in bid to dull France's brutal colonial past

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
French president Emmanuel Macron is welcomed by Cameroonese Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute upon his arrival at the Nsimalen international airport of Yaounde on July 25, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron has gone on a charm offensive in Africa, amid new questions about France's involvement in the so-called "war on terror" and its brutal colonial past in the continent.

Macron, who arrived in Cameroon late Monday, is due to hold talks at the presidential palace on Tuesday morning with his Cameroonian counterpart, Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon with an iron fist for nearly four decades.

Cameroon has also been riven by an insurgency by anglophone separatists who have been fighting for independence for two English-speaking provinces since 2017. The northern part of the country has also seen attacks by the Takfiri Boko Haram terrorist group.

On Wednesday, Macron will travel to Benin, which has faced deadly raids by militants and whose democracy has steadily eroded under President Patrice Talon over the last half-decade. On Thursday and on the last leg of his tour, Macron will visit Guinea-Bissau, which is beset by political crises.

All three countries have been strongly criticized by activists over their human rights records.

The visit comes at a time when former colonial power France has seen its influence in Africa decline compared to China and some other emerging nations.

In recent years, several African nations have criticized the colonial and paternalistic attitude of France in Africa. Mali's junta recently cut off its military cooperation with the French government. The development came after Malian troops discovered a mass grave close to a former French military base.

The French troop withdrawal from the country in February also prompted celebrations by the anti-French population. Mali's government earlier also expelled France's ambassador, a sign of mounting tensions between the West African country and its former colonizer.

In April 2019, Rwandans held a solemn commemoration of a genocide that killed some 800,000 Tutsis 25 years ago, amid new questions about France's role in the extermination.

Macron's office said later in a statement that the president had appointed a commission to investigate the country's alleged role in the genocide. It said eight historians and researchers would "contribute to a better understanding and knowledge" of what had happened. Macron explained that experts would have access to state archives, including diplomatic and military documents, and produce a public report.

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