President Emmanuel Macron began a visit to reshape France’s relations with Africa on Tuesday though a grenade attack targetting French troops on the ground and the stoning of a vehicle in his convoy in Burkina Faso set an early hostile tone.
Macron, 39, is on a three-day trip to Burkina Faso, Ghana and Ivory Coast aimed at boosting cooperation in education, the digital economy and migration.
The incidents in Ougadougou – one of them hours before Macron’s plane arrived in the capital and the other as he was meeting in the presidential palace – underlined the ill-feeling felt towards France by some in its former colonies.
At a joint news conference with his Burkina counterpart, Roch Marc Kabore, Macron said it was taking too long to get a West African military force created to fight militants fully operational. France has deployed around 4,000 troops in the Sahel region to counter Islamist militants.
“It is indispensable that we win this war as quickly as possible,” Macron said.
The G5 Sahel force, backed by France and the United States, launched its campaign on Oct 28 amid growing unrest in the desert reaches of the region, where jihadists allied to al Qaeda or inspired by Islamic State roam undetected, often over long, porous borders.
Macron said he would call for greater co-operation between Europe and Africa to tackle human trafficking during a summit of EU and African leaders to be held in Ivory Coast on Wednesday.
Hours before Macron arrived in Ougadougou a grenade was thrown at French soldiers. Three civilians were wounded, according to French media. No group claimed the attack.
“Let’s put things in perspective and keep our cool,” Macron said at a news conference shortly afterwards.
“I am not forgetting the deaths your people had to suffer yesterday, and in the weeks and months before,” he said, adding: “And they are victims of what? They are not to a reaction to a visit by France’s president. They are the victims of terrorism, of the deadly obscurantist terrorism against which we are all fighting with determination.”
While Macron was speaking with Burkina Faso’s president, stones were hurled at a vehicle travelling with the French delegation. Macron was not in the convoy, his spokesman said.
“A vehicle from the delegation was the target of stone-throwing,” the spokesman said in a tweet. “But we’re not talking about hundreds of attackers or loads of cars destroyed.”