What must Africans think when they observe the shameless hypocrisy of Western leaders? In Cameroon this morning incredulity must be the prevailing emotion. Three days ago, dignitaries there were subjected to one of Emmanuel Macron’s insufferable bouts of moralising. Do not do business with Vladimir Putin, warned the French president, speaking shortly after Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had visited various African countries, some of which are heavily dependent on Russian grain and energy.
He alluded to Russia as an ‘authoritarian regime’ and praised Europe for its response to the war in Ukraine. Unfortunately on the African continent, continued Macron: ‘I too often see hypocrisy…in not knowing how to qualify a war.’
He also promised to help tackle corruption, labelling it ‘a scourge for the African continent’. Macron presides over a country that knows a thing or two about political corruption; two of his three most recent predecessors have been convicted of corruption in office. One of them, Nicolas Sarkozy (the other, Jacques Chirac), supported Macron during April’s presidential campaign for which he said he was ‘honoured’
Sermon over, Macron flew back to France to fulfil an important social engagement on Thursday evening at the Elysée Palace. His guest at the lavish dinner? None other than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.
MSB hasn’t been seen much in Europe of late; indeed, this will be his first visit to the Continent since Saudi agents murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
That death probably wasn’t discussed last night over the hors-d'œuvre. And it would be a surprise if Macron used the dessert course to broach the tricky subject of the 24,000 Yemens – including 9,000 civilians – killed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes; what the Washington Post recently described as ‘war crimes’.
But why shouldn’t Macron court MSB? The leader of the free world did earlier this month. US president Joe Biden and the Crown Prince shared a ‘fist-bump’ in Jeddah.
This is the same Biden who, during campaigning for the 2020 presidential campaign called Saudi Arabia a 'pariah' state with 'no redeeming social value'. But needs must.
One subject that was discussed over dinner was the energy crisis, and, according to the French media, Macron would like the Saudis to increase their oil production from 10 million barrels a day to 13 million.
Macron and the Crown Prince go back a few years. They first dined together in the Louvre Museum in 2018 when they discussed their nations’ burgeoning ‘strategic partnership’, and last December in Jeddah, Macron became the first western leader to meet MSB since the killing of Khashoggi.
From energy transition to military hardware to cultural projects, France and Saudi Arabia have been working closely for years. In 2015, for example, they signed defence deals worth $12 billion (£10 billion) and, as a puff piece in an Arab newspaper said this week: ‘Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to France is expected to cement ties in all areas of the two countries’ diplomatic relations’.
The visit of the Crown Prince to Paris has been condemned by Human Rights organisations. Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard said she was 'profoundly troubled by the visit, because of what it means for our world'. Khashoggi’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, said she was 'scandalised and outraged that Emmanuel Macron is receiving with all honour the executioner of my fiancé'.
Welcome to realpolitik, counters the president. One of Macron’s entourage told reporters that a dialogue with the Saudis is ‘necessary’ but it ‘does not mean complacency’.
Macron is desperate to alleviate a gathering energy crisis that could bring Europe to its knees this winter. But if realpolitik is acceptable for the West, why isn’t it for Africa? The continent is facing a looming food shortage far worse than Europe’s, so dialogue with Russia is also necessary. But Macron appears to assume that in Africa’s case dialogue does mean complacency.
Macron prides himself on being a progressive but judging by his sanctimonious and paternalist attitude towards Africa this week he is anything but. He behaves like a neo-colonialist, dispensing morality like a 19th century missionary.
African leaders should ignore him and all other Western leaders who do not practise what they preach. If Macron is prepared to break bread with leaders from illiberal democracies or authoritarian regimes, why shouldn’t they?