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Emmanuel Macron and the new France

By Obadiah Mailafia

THE outcomes of the French presidential elections were announced on Sunday,  May 7, with Emmanuel Macron, the centrist political leader, having 65.8% of the votes as against ultra-nationalist Marine Le Pen’s 34.2 percent.  It had been a bitterly contested election. So much was at stake – no less than the future of France and of Europe itself.

Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right Front National, campaigned under the banner of xenophobic nationalism. She promised to act tough on immigration, pull France out of the EU, and revoke the citizenship of naturalised citizens with known terrorist sympathies. For her, it would always be “les français d’abord” – the French first!

For Macron and his En Marche! liberal centrists on the other hand, the campaign was for winning back the heart and soul of France – for solidarity, social justice, non-discrimination and reaffirmation of France’s place in the heart of Europe.

I spent some of my growing-up years as a student in France; first, at the provincial city of Vichy, in the heartland of the glorious Auvergne region, and later in Paris. I have drunk deep from the fountain of French intellectual culture. Blaise Pascale, François de la Rouchefoucauld, Simone Weil, Emmanuel Mounier, Jacques Maritain, Paul Ricoeur and Emmanuel Levinas – among the greatest of the world philosophers – have been the thinkers with whom I have shared a spiritual kinship.

If truth be told, I have nursed an ancient grievance against France because of the racist and humiliating manner she has treated our glorious continent.  No leader in the so-called francophone African countries could hope to survive if they decided to pursue an independent policy. Sekou Toure tried it in Guinea, with disastrous consequences. So did the martyred Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso and the lugubrious Laurent Gbagbo in Côte d’Ivoire.

There is some speculation that the French and the Americans know a thing or two about Boko Haram that we don’t. Their murderous exploits have been successful in the north east of our country because they could kill and flee back to French and American military training camps in neighbouring Chad and Niger.  The French view our country as the greatest threat to their colonial ambitions on our continent while the Americans have never forgiven us for rebuffing their leprous Africom project.

The French have a tendency to arrogance; but it is not arrogance entirely without basis. France is also a land of many virtues. The homeland of Lamartine, Honoré Balzac, Victor Hugo, Sartre, Régis Debray and Bernard Henri-Lévy is also the land where the apostles of the New Enlightenment stand sentry with all the oppressed of the earth.

Paris is arguably the most beautiful city in the world. The cathedrals of Nôtre Dame, Chartres, Reims, Amiens and Strasbourg — the gold-coloured cornfields of Provence and Normandy — have often filled me with such joy that I could never bring myself to hate France in spite of the humiliating manner she has treated my African people.

France stands at the apex of universal civilisation. No other nation, in my view, valorises its mathematicians, philosophers and thinkers than France does. Nobody beats the French in panache and sheer style. Apart from my beloved Nigeria and England, there is no other place in which I can say I feel more at home.

I have to confess that I felt relief that Emmanuel Macron won the elections.  He is the man of the moment – the statesman France has been waiting for. France is among the leading countries of Europe. With the prospects of actualisation of Brexit on the horizon, France is the second biggest economy in Europe. The Franco-German axis has been the engine and locomotive of the New Europe. Without France the European project is doomed.

With a population of 67 million people, France has a population of 7.7 million Muslims (10.5% of the population), most of whom are Arab immigrants from the Maghrib. They also have a stake in France, although they have never felt fully welcome. A few years ago, Arab and African youths in the inner cities — les banlieux — went on a spree of violent rioting. The country has also suffered several terrorist attacks. Until recently, unemployment had been prohibitively high while the economy stagnated. As a consequence, large sections of French society were going through a new distemper buoyed by unemployment, xenophobia, racism and anti-Europeanism.

This is why the Macron victory means so much for the New France. The country needs a balanced and liberal leader who can reform the economy, rebuild the public sector and bring people together within the banner of renewal and hope.

Emmanuel Macron ascends to the presidency at the age of 39, outdone only by Bonaparte who seized power at age 30 in 1799. Scion of the provincial bourgeoisie, Emmanuel Macron is well trained for the job. He read philosophy at the University of Paris Nanterre, later doing a Masters in Public Administration at the Institut de’Études Politiques (Sciences Po) and then the prestigious École National d’Administration (ENA). He began his career in the elite corps of Inspecteurs des Finances in the French Treasury. He later became an investment banker with the prestigious Rothschild bank in Paris. He subsequently served as Assistant Secretary-General in the Office of President François Hollande before being appointed Minister of the Economy.

In his speech after winning the elections, Macron declared that his priorities would be security, immigration, employment and the economy.  France remains stuck in bureaucracy and institutional gridlock. The country is in dire need of economic reform, public sector reforms policies to re-engineer growth.  It is akin to steering a mammoth oil tanker. I also hope he will articulate a better Africa policy that will put our relations on more enlightened foundations. We can only wish him well. Vive la France!


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