Security, memory, no angry subject… The essentials of the meeting between Paul Biya and Emmanuel Macron

In Yaounde, the two Heads of State reviewed the crucial issues of the moment and took stock of the bilateral relations between the two countries. Overview of their exchanges

By Jeune Afrique

Expected to last 90 minutes, the discussions between Paul Biya and Emmanuel Macron finally slightly exceeded two hours, on Tuesday, July 26.

At the end of their meeting, which was held at midday in Yaounde, the two Heads of State returned to the ambassadors’ lounge at the Unity Palace, for the traditional press conference organized during official visits.

During their discussions, both reaffirmed “the solidity of relations” between their two countries, before going into a little more detail on the content of their conversations

Despite the French promise to renew the relationship between Paris and Africa, no angry subject on the menu of this visit, the first of the French president in Africa since his re-election last May.

President Biya and Emmanuel Macron
at the joint press conference

First subject discussed during the one-on-one: the crisis in Ukraine and its negative consequences on food security. The two presidents agreed “that everything must be done for a rapid cessation of hostilities”, this by replacing the “logic of confrontation with that of conciliation and dialogue”.

Take back ground

The Cameroonian president, however, refrained from condemning Russia, asserting the right of non-interference which characterises his country’s diplomacy. The French president, for his part, expressed his concern about the advance of Russian influence in the Central African Republic and Mali, denouncing “manoeuvres to capture raw materials in exchange for security support for weak political powers or juntas”.

This is what is at stake in this high-risk trip by the French president: to try to regain ground against other powers. On the economic level, the French president recognized the decline of the French economic presence in Cameroon. He thus hailed the dynamism of the Cameroonian economy which benefits from “this effect of competition”.

But what did Macron came to do in Cameroon?

Emmanuel Macron spoke of his ambition to diversify co-operation between his country and Cameroon by focusing on the agricultural sector. Taking the example of the Frenchman Pierre Castel who, through his subsidiary SABC, has invested nearly FCFA 18 billion in a maize mill, the French president presented his Food & Agriculture Resilience Mission (FARM) initiative and the opportunities it could open in Cameroon.

Opening of archives

Emmanuel Macron and Paul Biya also spoke at length about defense issues, in particular the security crises facing Cameroon, in the North threatened by Boko Haram and in the Western regions plagued by separatist tendencies. The Cameroonian president pleaded for a strengthening of military cooperation between the two countries, specifically with regard to the training of officers and units in the field. For his part, Emmanuel Macron stressed the need to proceed with “real decentralization”, presenting regionalization as a solution to the crisis which is shaking the English-speaking regions of the North-West and South-West.

Also expected on questions of memories, Emmanuel Macron promised that a team of historians would shed light on the past to write a common history of relations between the two countries.

“We must jointly launch joint work by French and Cameroonian historians who will thus be able to have access to all of our archives. I make a commitment here to fully open our archives to shed light on this past,” he said at a press conference.

“I cannot hear “

No other strong announcement was made following the exchanges between the two presidents. Sensitive questions relating to the rule of law in the country were avoided, Emmanuel Macron assuring that he will speak about democracy issues with young representatives of French and Cameroonian civil societies later in the day. He was to ensure a meeting on this theme in Étoudi, the village of Yannick Noah , before flying on July 27 to Benin then Guinea-Bissau.

Not a word, either, on the extraordinary longevity – 40 years – of Paul Biya in power… or almost. To the question of an RFI journalist who wanted to know if the Cameroonian president would run for re-election in 2025, he first replied that he “did not hear”, before assuring that “Cameroon is led in accordance with its Constitution”. “When this mandate expires, you will be informed as to whether I am staying or going to the village,” he concluded.

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